Phil Hernandez first heard about hate crimes on campus through a phone call from a friend. He was far away from Iowa State studying social justice programs at the University of California, San Diego.
"I remember being embarrassed," Hernandez said.
Sidewalks throughout the ISU campus rang out with hate in early July 2005. Hernandez said it might have been just spray paint on sidewalks, but the graffiti echoed intolerance.
"Dyke bar" appeared with an arrow pointing to the Sloss House, where the Margaret Sloss Women's Center is located.
Other examples of sexual and racial discrimination were spray-painted around the campus, including a swastika.
Penny Rice, coordinator for the Women's Center and graduate in educational leadership and policy studies, said she was in Ames, but not on campus, when the incident took place.
"It's pretty common to mistake or misunderstand a strong woman as a lesbian. I was not surprised by that. I was surprised at the multiple groups that were targeted," Rice said in direct response to the negative remarks aimed at the lesbian community.
She said the incidents had somewhat of a positive effect because there was a stronger sense of solidarity among those being targeted in the graffiti.
Hernandez, graduate in educational leadership and policy studies, viewed the acts as well thought-out.
"They seemed premeditated because it was during a time they had less of a chance of getting caught, and the words seemed premeditated because of how specific they were," Hernandez said.
A rally ensued in response. Students and faculty spoke openly and defiantly about their distaste for what had happened. Rice recalled there being not only scheduled speakers, but an open mic opportunity so everyone who wanted to express their feelings had an opportunity.
That's when Hernandez, along with the help of Government of the Student Body President Angela Groh, decided to take action.
As part of an executive order placed by Groh and GSB Vice President Chris Deal, Hernandez was placed at the helm of the Principles Commission, a group dedicated to looking at issues of diversity at Iowa State.
"My entire approach has always been to do something tangible that the students can really be a part of," Groh said. "Phil came up with the idea to seek out values on campus so that when students come to Iowa State, they understand and recognize the beliefs of the community."
Hernandez said he drew ideas from the University of California, San Diego's principles of community which explains that the school's faculty, staff and students are expected to practice respect toward one another and strive toward common goals, while rejecting all acts of discrimination.
With the help of Rice and her knowledge of students who would be willing to donate time into such a cause, a commission of nine was put together early in the fall semester.
Rice said student-led initiatives can be very powerful.
"I truly believe students don't understand the depth and breadth of their power," Rice said.
After organizing the commission, Hernandez formulated the idea of conducting focus groups in order to gauge perspectives from student, faculty and staff on what an ideal ISU community would consist of.
E-mails were sent urging people to participate.
He said the hardest part of getting students to participate in the focus groups was trying to explain what the commission was really doing.
"It's a sensitive subject, and it's hard to articulate when it's not physically there," Hernandez said.
The goal was to get 40 students involved, although only 25 students participated in the focus groups.
Hernandez, along with others on the commission, felt they received valid and worthwhile information from the groups.
"I remember looking up at one of our transcribers and smiling because it's so exciting," Rice said of her experience during one of the focus groups.
Sarah Sunderman, sophomore in political science and GSB senator, said she also had positive experiences in the focus groups.
"The groups were small enough so that everyone felt comfortable sharing their ideas and discrepancies," Sunderman said. "I was very happy with that."
Hernandez said he is aware that the commission can't rest on its laurels.
"The information provided at the focus groups strengthens our foundation, so that when we move forward with our intentional statement, we can say we went above and beyond what is normally called for in a commission like this one," Hernandez said.
After the commission reviews the information it gathered and develops a statement, Hernandez said they will seek approval from various bodies around campus, such as the faculty senate, the professional and scientific council and the graduate and professional student senate.
Then, if all goes well, it will be presented to ISU President Gregory Geoffrey.
"We have to put in perspective that it's going to take time and patience to work if it is adopted," Hernandez said. "It will take four years to even gauge if it makes an impact."
In a statement regarding the principle commission's goals, Hernandez attempted to clarify confusion.
"I want to clarify that this will not be a policy statement, but rather an intrinsic set of values that will serve as a guide for our university as it celebrates and promotes each facet of our community," he said.
Rice added to Hernandez's comments on the value statement's purpose.
"We are breaking the policies and procedures into something people's hearts and heads can understand," Rice said.