Forty-five people packed into a small room at the Daily Grind coffee shop on Main Street on Wednesday evening to discuss ways to combat bullying and cultivate acceptance in the Pullman community.
Bertie Weddell and former Mayor Karen Kiessling organized and led an unexpectedly full room in a brainstorming session to identify groups at risk in the community and determine how to help them.
“We had no idea what the turnout would be, and of course we’re flabbergasted and delighted, and a little bit embarrassed that people had to be so scrunched into a little, tiny space,” Kiessling said.
The original plan for the meeting was to discuss whether the group would associate with Not In Our Town, a nationwide campaign to address bullying and hate crimes.
The organization traces its launch to its documentation of a series of hate crimes that struck Billings, Mont., in 1995.
While Kiessling acknowledged potential benefits of associating with the organization, she said she was more interested in working with local groups represented by those attending the meeting, including Palouse UPstanders and Palouse ProActive, both focused on educating the community on topics including bystander intervention and government action.
Some members of Palouse UPstanders, which promotes speaking up in harassment and bullying situations, referred to recent acts of harassment since the presidential election as a possible catalyst for formation of both their own group and ProActive, both of which launched within the last two months.
When asked about harassment he has heard of through his job, Asif Chaudhry, vice president for international programs at Washington State University, said this past summer, a significant number of Middle Eastern students at Idaho State University faced harassment that led them to leave the university.
“The fact that we have to have these meetings,” Chaudhry said, “shows what’s going on in our country, and what’s the mood here.”
Pullman police Chief Gary Jenkins said the department fully supported the groups’ efforts, but said the department can be limited in its ability to address certain issues that do not fall within specific laws.
Kiessling said she and Weddell have not yet spoken about their goals for the next meeting, but Kiessling said she wants to hear back from the other organizations, coordinate calendars and address issues from the community.
“You multiply your effect when you operate cooperatively with like-minded groups,” Kiessling said.
The group will meet again Feb. 1. UPstanders will also host a bystander intervention training 7-8 p.m. Jan. 19 at the 1912 Center in Moscow.
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