UNC panel to study hate crimes policy

Racist graffiti aimed at President-elect Barack Obama has prompted the University of North Carolina System to review its student code of conduct. Harold Martin (pictured) will lead the review.

Racist graffiti at N.C. State University aimed at President-elect Barack Obama has prompted The University of North Carolina System to review its student code of conduct.

System President Erskine Bowles said Friday he created a commission to review the code as it relates to hate crimes. The commission is led by Harold Martin, UNC Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and former chancellor of Winston-Salem University.

The group will advise Bowles on whether a system-wide policy addressing hate crimes and acts of violence and intimidation should be recommended to the UNC Board of Governors. The 11-member commission, which includes students, staff and faculty from 10 UNC institutions, also will consider whether a system-wide requirement for diversity orientation for all first-time students should be recommended.

"We think that’s an important step," the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, told the Associated Press.

"The concerns we raised were really a fundamental question for North Carolina and our campuses about public safety. And that is: ‘Is hate speech and speech that communicates threats and creates a hostile environment protected speech?’ ”

The commission will meet next week and forward its recommendations to Bowles no later than March 31.

The commission was established in response to community outrage over derogatory and racist statements spray-painted in the Free Expression Tunnel at N.C. State following Obama’s Nov. 4 election. The graffiti included the message "Let’s shoot the N— in the head."

The tunnel has been open to students’ free-speech messages since the 1960s.

A student who accepted responsibility for the graffiti later apologized and is expected to take part in diversity training and perform community service. Three others issued written apologies.

Authorities determined the students posed no danger to Obama.

People representing “diverse advocacy and constituent groups” will be asked to share their concerns and perspectives with the commission during a forum to be scheduled in late January or early February. Public input may be forwarded to the commission at study_commission@northcarolina.edu.

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