Hate speech and hate crimes were on the rise.
Groups proclaiming the supremacy of the white race marched through communities resistant to their beliefs. Minorities on campus received threatening letters and phone calls. Racist graffiti was scrawled on homes and religious institutions.
While such scenes may resemble, in some respects, the rise in racist rhetoric in 2017, they played out in 1997 as well, right here in the Inland Northwest. At that time, Gonzaga University did something no other academic institution in the world had done.
It decided to study hate.
A small group of people concerned about everything from neo-Nazis in North Idaho to the harassment of African-American law students on the Spokane campus gathered in a Gonzaga building. They didn’t want to be just another peace and justice group that reacted to racism, said Raymond Reyes, a professor who was a member of that group.
“We wrestled around it all day long. We came up with the idea of focusing on hate,” said Reyes, currently the university’s associate academic vice president and chief diversity officer. It was an attempt to apply logic to illogical behavior, a “wanting to make sense out of the craziness.”
The Institute for Action Against Hate, as the organization was originally named, would use academic resources from different Gonzaga departments to look at the root causes of hate in individuals and communities. It wouldn’t be just another think tank studying the problem, he said, but a place for research, advocacy, prevention and intervention.
“If we can combat hate, we have a society that is more just,” said Kristine Hoover, associate professor of organizational leadership and current director of what is now the Institute for Hate Studies. “It’s not just about not hating.”
The institute brought psychology and sociology together with history, business and economics. It published the Journal of Hate Studies. In 2009, the university began offering what is thought to be the first interdisciplinary academic class in hate studies.
There is an economic component to consider when addressing racism and hatred, Hoover said. It can reduce a community’s economic viability, and “when we don’t have a community that is thriving, people don’t tend to come for jobs,” she said.
Diversity has an economic upside, she added, because it attracts the broadest range of talent.
Every four or five years, the institute sponsors an international conference, like next weekend’s Engaging with Communities for Justice.
“It’s an opportunity for people looking for strategies and actions they can take,” Hoover said.
The three-day conference offers a mix of regional, national and international experts:
- Jennifer Schweppe, co-director for the relatively new International Network for Hate Studies and a law professor at Ireland’s University of Limerick
- Joe Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center
- Idaho state Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, a Boise Democrat who is that state’s only African-American legislator
- Rabbi Francine Green Roston, of Whitefish, Montana, who will talk about how that community remained resilient in the face of a cyberstorm from white nationalists and the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.
Despite some 20 years of working to fight hate and racism, Reyes can’t say those conditions have lessened in America.
“Hate is alive and well,” he said. Thanks to the internet and social media, its propagation is easier.
But the conference will give participants some ideas on how to address it in their communities. After all, the conference is only three days, Reyes said.
“What are people doing the other 362 days of the year?” he said. “They need to go back to where they live, and make a difference.”
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