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No reliable data on hate crimes

Collin Ludwig is a co-president of Wunk Sheek, a Native American student group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Here, he poses at a sacred fire circle near Dejope Residence Hall on the UW-Madison campus, where on Oct. 9 — Indigenous Peoples' Day — graffiti that read “Columbus Rules 1492” was written in red paint. Riley Vetterkind / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Mukhtar Ibrahim

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

There are no reliable data on the number or rate of hate crimes in the United States, according to the investigative news nonprofit ProPublica. The organization has collected several dozen self-reports of alleged incidents of hate and bias in Wisconsin — most of them unconfirmed — since November 2016 when it began soliciting tips as part of its Documenting Hate project. The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism is among more than 100 news outlets and other groups participating in the project.

FBI figures show just eight anti-Jewish hate crimes in Wisconsin in 2016, while the same year the Milwaukee Jewish federation collected 50 anti-Semitism reports, some of which do not rise to the level of criminal behavior. These reports include harassment or threats, written and verbal expressions or vandalism, such as the swastikas that were spray-painted on a memorial near the Gates of Heaven synagogue in Madison’s James Madison Park in September.

The vandalism came hours before the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

"It was obviously a targeted attack meant to intimidate a community," Olson said, "and knowing that swastikas do to the Jewish community what Confederate flags do to the African-American community."

At UW-Madison, 11 percent of 8,652 students surveyed in 2016 in the first campus-wide climate survey said they have been subjected to hostility, harassment or intimidating behavior. Students of color, women, transgender people, those with disabilities, gays and lesbians were more likely to experience such incidents, according to the climate survey.

Most of the 87 reports of bias or hate at the UW-Madison in the last six months of 2016 were about racial insults, so-called micro-aggressions, derogatory language, signs on bulletin boards or graffiti found on campus buildings.

They also included exam questions that some students had found troubling, such as when a statistics instructor asked students during the spring 2016 semester to solve a problem involving kangaroos jumping over the U.S.-Mexico border. Three Mexican-American students who were offended by the question filed a hate and bias report.

"Given the political rhetoric at the time, it came to our attention and it was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a bit insensitive,’" said Kevin Helmkamp, UW-Madison’s assistant vice provost and associate dean of students. "The teacher acknowledged that it was not a good question."

Said Helmkamp: "There’s a lot pain out there right now, and it’s a challenging time for our society as a whole."

One of the communities feeling that pain is Native American students. In March 2016, a group of students mocked tribal leaders at the Dejope Residence Hall during a healing ceremony held for sexual assault victims. And this year, on Oct. 9, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, graffiti that read "Columbus Rules 1492" was written in red paint on a sacred fire circle at the same hall.

Native American students say the desecration reminds them of centuries of discrimination in a place that is supposed to welcome them.

"Every time we go there now, it’s going to be in the back of our minds that, that happened there," said Collin Ludwig, co-president of Wunk Sheek, an indigenous student group. "It’s just disappointing and it upsets us a lot that we are still being treated this way after 500 years."

Mariah Skenandore, the other co-president, said "my heart isn’t safe on this campus."

"It’s terrifying for me to walk down the street and not know who even committed a crime like that or who is capable of doing that or who agrees with the person that did that or doesn’t see anything wrong with that," she said. "I could be walking side by side with these people."

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.