Discrimination is a wide-spread issue, but as one campus study found, it’s not just limited to those in minority groups.
Kristine Olson and Dennelle Larsen-Rife, Dixie State University assistant professors of psychology, conducted a campus-wide poll from April 2012 through December 2012 about whether students, faculty and staff felt discrimination and harassment was an issue on campus, and if so, what types of discrimination were happening.
Olson said every person on campus was given the opportunity to take the poll via Dmail; 25 percent of students, 30 percent of the staff and 38 percent of faculty responded to the survey.
“We weren’t too surprised (with the results) because we’d heard anecdotal stories from staff, faculty and students that they have been harassed on campus and incidents were going on,” Olson said. “So we knew some things were happening.”
According to the study, about half the respondents said they had reported a harassment incident on campus, and the bulk of the complaints were in regard to discrimination against ethnic and racial minorities.
Larsen-Rife and Olson found ethnic minorities accounted for 27 percent of the reported incidents on DSU’s campus. The survey allowed for participants to anonymously comment on their discrimination experiences, and the events that trigger feelings of discrimination can be vast.
One participant wrote, “I just get that look because I am a brown skinned [sic] Polynesian and I can feel the racism going on.”
Another wrote: “The only reason that racism is an issue is because people always bring it up. Scholarships based on race are unfair. The term ‘equal rights’ does not mean ‘My ancestors were suppressed and I deserve more rights and privileges to make up for that injustice.’”
The study shows that all demographics at DSU’s campus feel discrimination on one level or another, and the definitions of discrimination appear to vary from person to person.
Of the participants, 25 percent of students, 30 percent of staff and 38 percent of faculty said they reported harassment based on religion.
“People think I’m evil because I’m atheist, young and have long hair,” one participant remarked.
Another stated, “People will give you dirty looks or exclude you if you are not Mormon or of their religion.”
The complaints came not just from the non-LDS minority, though.
“Every semester it seems like I have one teacher who is anti-Christian or anti-Mormon and includes such sentiments in their curriculum,” one respondent wrote.
Another wrote: “There is a negative look on the LDS belief to some people. I have overheard and been told to my face what they think about me being LDS.”
Those polled reacted to DSU’s LGBT presence, as well.
“I have heard homosexual slurs yelled across parking lots and fields,” wrote one survey participant.
Another respondent wrote: “(I’m) tired of (the) gay rights movement. Sex has no place on campus, and constant reminders of what one guy does to another guy is gross and has no place warping sexual identities of our young.”
Joel Lewis, assistant professor of history, recently had a small group of students petition for his removal from the faculty because he had been teaching that history can be perceived as different depending on which source is being used. Lewis said there was opportunity for discriminatory feelings, but he put the petitioners, the age of those involved and the entire situation into perspective.
“The discrimination is more of a sense of unspoken alienation,” Lewis said. “Dixie students are incredibly receptive to new information, as long as it does not challenge their previous knowledge. When new information is presented that a student has not been exposed to before, walls of denial are instantly raised and, in extreme cases, the professor is simply dismissed as a liar.”
Lewis said he was bullied while growing up and has dedicated his life to “breaking the silence against bullies and perpetrators of violence and intimidation, whether in the classroom or in public life.”
He said perspective is key when defining harassment and discrimination. Lewis once publicly stood up to a family member who raped his mother. The accused man put a gun to Lewis’ head and demanded he take back his allegations, but Lewis stood his ground and denounced the man.
“I guess blatant situations of threats like that desensitized me to a certain extent and helped me put other issues in perspective,” he said. “That being said, I am also a highly sensitive individual and take very deep offense to even the slightest negative action or comment directed at me. I guess the difference is that I get over things quickly and gain back the will to fight back if necessary.”
The largest and perhaps most disturbing figure revealed through this study was the number of unreported incidents.
According to the study’s results: “[Ninety-two percent] of students, 67 [percent] of staff, and 74 [percent] of faculty said they did not report their harassment incident. The top reasons for not reporting harassment were thinking that it was not important and thinking nothing would be done.
“We found a big problem,” Olson said. “We found a lot of students, faculty and staff that, when something happens, nobody knows where to go to report that information. I think if you took a random poll (about where and how to report an incident), they wouldn’t know.”
Students have several options for dealing with harassment or discrimination, and it begins at a personal level.
“Really, it’s just about being nice,” Olson said. “Stop being rude. Be sensitive.”
But if and when students are harassed, they are encouraged to report the incident to Frank Lojko, student services vice president. He can be reached at 435-652-7511 or by email at Lojko@dixie.edu. This will be the fastest and most effective way to report an incident.