A Hypeline investigation has discovered troubling news about bias incident numbers used by the Southern Poverty Law Center: they can’t be verified. In fact, multiple attempts by Hypeline to obtain sources for several claims were met with an inability by the SPLC to find the stats, or even point Hypeline to an agency or organization that compiles the data points used.
Here are the three commonly cited statistics found on a number of college websites, with only one statistic being able to be verified:
“Every Year more than half a million college students are targets of bias-driven slurs or physical assaults.
Every Day at least one hate crime occurs on a college campus.
Every Minute a college student somewhere sees or hears racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise biased words or images.”
For example, the Napa Valley College “Bias Incident Response Team” website lists these statements. The statements find its way on to a diversity website for Albright University, Monmouth University, and an LGBT Safe Zone training handbook, which lists tolerance.org as the citation.
A booklet called “Ten Ways to Fight Racism”, produced in 2003 by SPLC also lists the statistics, which presumably is where the data set comes from. However, no citations are provided. The statistics, as well as a paraphrase appears to come from Brian Willoughby, who helped write the booklet ( a dissertation lists Willoughby as the author of the booklet).
Only the statistic “Every day at least one hate crime occurs on a college campus” can be verified. According to an October 2001 report by the Department of Justice, a variety of data sources did come to 365 hate crimes in a year. In 1998 there were 221 reported hate crimes according to an FBI report, and 334 according to a university law enforcement group. An updated source provided by SPLC shows 781 hate crimes on college campuses in 2013, meaning the amount has ostensibly doubled.
A 2002 report on hate crime by the FBI (a data set closer to the publication date of the original statement by SPLC) says that 10 percent of hate crimes (of a total of 8, 832 total offenses) were commited “at schools and colleges” which includes high school and even K-8.
Napa Valley College did not respond to a media inquiry on the source for the number, although it’s presumed they came from the SPLC booklet (as noted, no actual citation has been provided).
To summarize: there are three statements used in an early 2000s booklet distributed by the SPLC and then used repeatedly by various diversity offices, LGBT offices, and other trainings. One statement, hate crimes on college campuses, is a recognized and collected crime statistic. While the original data used the college departments may be outdated, the data on hate crimes on college campuses is still presented and only needs to be updated to be more accurate.
However, the number of “bias-driven slurs or physical assaults” and witnessing of “racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise biased words or images” cannot be confirmed. While data can be found for assaults classified as hate crimes, ‘bias-driven slurs’ data is unattainable.
At first, a SPLC media associate said that the center could not find the data due to many of the people who worked on the original report no longer being at the center and the report being old. When specifically asked about the two unattainable data points, the associate told Hypeline, “Unfortunately, we no longer have the files from this 2003 report and I’m not sure which resource was used for the two stats you flagged.”
When pressed for which agency, such as the FBI or DOJ might track those data points, the SPLC responded, “I’m not sure but I would start with the FBI stats. You should also follow-up with DOE [Department of Education] and NCES [National Center for Education Statistics]”, two sources earlier provided as a source of data.
The Department of Education does provide a tool for searching for bias-incidents, but only as it relates to hate crimes.
A member of the data team at NCES did respond to a Hypeline inquiry. She did provide a corroborating indicator for hate crimes, but told Hypeline in reference to the ‘Every year, day, minute’ statement, “Our numbers are much lower than those reported in this publication. I’m not sure where those stats may have originated.”