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NAACP, UNC system hate-crimes panel to meet

A commission studying whether the UNC system needs a hate-crimes policy heard messages for and against the idea Thursday.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The panel looking into whether the 16-campus University of North Carolina system should adopt a policy to handle possible hate crimes plans to meet with the NAACP later this month.

UNC President Erskine Bowles appointed the UNC Study Commission to Review Student Codes of Conduct as They Relate to Hate Crimes in November after four North Carolina State University students spray-painted racist graffiti on campus the night Barack Obama won the presidential election.

Officials with the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for the students to be expelled, but Bowles and other university officials said they had no grounds to do that.

The commission, which includes students, staff and faculty from 10 UNC campuses, got public input Thursday on the idea of a hate-crimes policy. Most spoke in favor of one, but the majority of the dozens of e-mails sent to the commission in recent weeks opposed it.

"The university does a disservice to its students if it permits them to believe that such actions (like the racist graffiti) are OK and will be tolerated in the real world," said Hunter Corn, chairman of Equality North Carolina, an advocacy group for gay rights.

"This is a tough one, it really is," said Katy Parker, legal director for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's been tough for the ACLU. However, the First Amendment protects speech no matter how offensive it is."

Parker said a policy would let the government determine what constitutes an offensive action.

Matt Woodward, who serves on an N.C. State task force studying the same issues, said the discussion is healthy for the UNC system.

"I think it is going to be hard for (the commission) to do because there is a lot of legality involved," Woodward said. "I think dialogs like this shouldn't end."

The commission, which is also examining whether to require all new students in the UNC system to attend a diversity orientation, is expected to give Bowles its recommendations by the end of March.

Any policy change would need to be approved by the UNC Board of Governors.


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