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MIT Homosexual Target of Hate Mail

By Efren Gutierrez

and Karen E. Robinson
STAFF REPORTERS

Last Wednesday, hate mail was sent to a homosexual MIT student, East Campus resident Kevin Q. Choi ’01. The e-mail came from another MIT student’s Athena account, and was sent from his personal computer.

The incident stems from an e-mail Choi sent to the 18.06 mailing list earlier in the semester, when he tried to form a study group. The day he sent the e-mail, Choi noticed an increase in visits to his web page from several computers in the alleged sender’s living group, with multiple hits from one IP address in particular. He sent e-mail to the owner of that IP address, asking whether the sudden burst of hits to his page was related to the 18.06 e-mail -- and received a hate e-mail in reply.

The e-mail reportedly included a threat against the student’s life, and invoked the attack on Matthew Shepard, a homosexual University of Wyoming freshman who was beaten to death in 1998.

Choi filed a complaint with Campus Police, who, with the help of Information Systems, were able to verify that the e-mail was sent from the accused student’s computer. Choi has also filed a formal complaint with the Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs. He does not plan to take the case outside MIT jurisdiction at this point.

The accused student denies ever sending the e-mail, and the case is currently under investigation. The accused student refused to comment when reached by phone.

MIT treats harassment seriously

Harassment victims have several options for taking action through official MIT channels. A complaint can be filed with Campus Police, who will investigate the case in conjunction with the Office of Residential and Student Life Programs.

If the complaint is found to be valid, and the responsible party admits his or her actions, a panel consisting of one dean and one student will decide what action should be taken.

However, if he denies the charges, a five-member panel will discuss the case in an on-campus hearing to determine what sanctions, if any, will be imposed.

Assistant Dean Carol Orme-Johnson, Assistant Dean, and Director of Mediation at MIT said sanctions “can range from a simple warning to probation to even a recommended suspension that can only be imposed by President Vest.”

The entire process can take between several weeks and several months, depending on the circumstances surrounding each case.

If necessary, a civil or criminal case can be filed with Cambridge Police. Such a case then falls outside of MIT jurisdiction.

MIT generally supportive

Choi said he “never expected to encounter this, especially at MIT.” People he has come in contact with here have been generally supportive, he said.

Campus Police Captain John E. Driscoll said, “We usually don’t get a lot of these cases. This has been the only sexual-orientation hate e-mail this particular school year.”

Approximately 70 harassment complaints, including those not related to e-mail and not necessarily to homosexual students, were filed with Campus Police in 1999.

Students who receive threatening or harassing e-mail can contact either Information Systems or send mail to stopit@mit.edu, which deals specifically with on-line harassment.