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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Justice and equity’: Gonzaga to host international hate studies conference

People stand in front of Coeur d’Alene Public Schools District Administration Offices while protesting a Coeur d’Alene School District meeting Friday on a renewed effort to implement a mask mandate.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

In Tony Stewart’s eyes, current events might make this year’s International Conference on Hate Studies the most relevant iteration of the Gonzaga University event yet.

Look no further than Coeur d’Alene, said Stewart, secretary for the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. After Coeur d’Alene School Board members canceled a late September meeting due to the presence of around 200 people gathered in protest of face masks in schools, a number of protesters drove to the district offices and occupied the lobby before they were eventually escorted out of the building by police.

“All over America, we see school boards with mobs appearing and yelling at them, and unfortunately we’ve seen a number of school board members resign because they felt a threat to their families,” he said. “Then, of course, violence in different ways.

“Never before in recent times has it been more important to try to analyze what’s causing that hate and the growth in quarters of that.”

The three-day International Conference on Hate Studies, set to start Thursday, is expected to draw academics, practitioners, students, faculty, community members and others to share their perspectives related to the field studying hate.

The virtual conference’s theme is “Justice and Equity: Challenging Hate and Inspiring Hope.” More information is available at

Gonzaga University’s Institute for Hate Studies, the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force and the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations are co-hosting the event, the sixth since the institute was founded in 1998, said institute director Kristine Hoover.

“As an academic institution, with so many people locally, across the country and across the world wanting to find a more inclusive and safer way to build communities, what we can contribute is the research that tries to look at what are effective interventions,” Hoover said. “What are effective ways that we can counter hate and we can create greater inclusion and welcoming?”

The conference’s keynote speaker this year is Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice.

In addition to presentations, workshops and roundtables, this year’s conference will be highlighted by a series of panel discussions on topics including updates from several hate studies centers in the U.S. and Canada, as well as the future of research.

Selections from the conference will likely be included in the next issue of the Journal of Hate Studies, a peer-reviewed open access publication produced by the Institute for Hate Studies. Late last week, the institute released a special edition leading up to the conference titled “Hate Amid the Pandemic.”

Stewart will join other human rights task force leaders from across the Northwest in the conference’s final panel Saturday.

“Some of them are going to discuss where do we go from here,” said Stewart, who helped lead the community charge against the Aryan Nations in North Idaho in the 1980s and ’90s. “With these new challenges, do we have to add on some new dimensions? What we’ve done in the past is very important knowledge and strategy, but does this call for some new forms of action?”

The conference will close Saturday with a ceremony recognizing winners of this year’s Eva Lassman “Take Action Against Hate” awards, presented by the Gonzaga institute, and the Human Rights Champion Awards sponsored by the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force and the Spokane Human Rights Commission.

The “Take Action Against Hate” awards are named after Lassman, a Holocaust survivor who lived in Spokane for many years and often spoke at area schools and community events about her time in the Majdanek death camp.

The individual award recipients are Rowena Pineda and Pui-Yan Lam, former co-chairs of the Asian Pacific Island Coalition of Spokane. The organizational award winner is the Limerick University European Centre for the Study of Hate.

The winners of this year’s Human Rights Champion Awards are Katie Urbanek, founder of Spokane’s PFLAG organization; Jan Baker of the Spokane NAACP; Jennyfer Mesa, a co-founder of Latinos en Spokane; and Angel Tomeo Sam, an advocate with the Bail Project. The awards ceremony will be aired live on Facebook.

“Often we will see individuals in need, or a need in our community, and even times when we think we have the answer or the response to that need,” said James “JJ” Johnson, director of the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, “but there are those in our community who don’t just see the need. They don’t just consider a response. They actually do something about it.”