270. "How to Combat Hate" Ethics: Easier Said Than Done, Issue 29, (June 1995), pp. 34-35.


The ways to counter hate range from the personal informal to the organized and institutionalized. Nat Hentoff, a nationally syndicated columnist who frequently writes about civil liberties, illustrates the personal and informal ways in the following report. Four black students were walking on the campus of Arizona State University when they saw a flyer on a dormitory apartment door. It was labeled :Simplified form of a job application. Form for minority applicants.” The form requested sources of income and listed among the options to be checked off: “theft, welfare, unemployment.” For marital status, the options were “common law, shacked up, other.” The form also asked for “number of legitimate children (if any).”

The four women were greatly offended by the bogus form. But they did not call on the university authorities, despite a university code prohibiting such slurs. Instead they knocked on the apartment door and told the person present how they felt about the form. He took it down. The next evening the women organized a meeting with some students in the same dormitory and discussed the matter. They were joined by a supportive professor. Several white people made it clear that they were deeply embarrassed. The session was followed up by more forums, a press conference, and a seminar at the law school. These discussions, in turn, triggered a campus-wide debate on the issues at hand. The local newspapers also took note. The article on the campus newspaper included an apology from the person who had put up the form in the first place. The four women said that toward the end they no longer felt like victims but rather “empowered.”

True, not all such stories have happy endings. And Hentoff closed his account by noting that the campus was in the throes of a new debate: it seems there was a student who liked to put swastikas on his notebooks and the walls of his room . . . the work of education is never done.

At Emory University, workshops on sexual harassment have been held for students, faculty, and staff who have been accused of making sexist remarks. The participants are first quizzed regarding their notions of what constitutes sexist behavior and harassment. Then they review legal cases about harassment, watch videos that portray it, and participate in role-playing exercises. Robert Ethridge, the assistant vice-president for equal opportunity, explains: “The workshop sessions are eye-opening and enlightening. For some people, the sessions won’t change their minds, but for others, being confronted with these issues has a long-term positive benefit.” Not everyone is supportive of these programs. The dean for student life at Duke University, Sue Wasiolik, has “a concern about forcing students into mandatory workshops. It bothers me about our society in general that the only way people think they can change behavior is to set up a rule.” Educators, however, regularly require students to attend all kinds of classes, from foreign-language courses to math. Why not require them to attend classes that will teach them civility? Afterward, once they have been exposed to the message of a civil community, they are still free to hold on to their viewpoints.

Here’s another way of dealing with hate: If a group of Aryans wants to run an ad in the student newspaper (the only one on campus) that claims the Holocaust did not occur, rather than refuse it, the student newspaper could accompany the ad with an editorial explaining why it is offensive and publish articles by respected historians on the subject. In this way the publication of the ad would turn into an educational event.

Asking students to volunteer or appoint some as student mediators also helps on campuses in which interracial tensions (or some other intergroup tensions) run high. The very fact that people take on a role like that, political scientist Jane Mansbridge points out, changes their behavior. They see themselves as entrusted with the community’s values and well-being and often act accordingly. Given some training, they can help defuse verbal conflicts long before they turn into serious confrontations.

There are a whole slew of other educational tools: debates and assemblies, courses on the sources and dynamics of prejudice, and one-on-one and small-group interracial dinners. The use of videotapes is considered particularly effective. There is, for instance, a video called “Still Burning” that is designed to stimulate discussion about racial prejudice. The video opens with a student’s door being defaced with racial slurs and threats from other students; it was produced by the University of Maryland at Baltimore and exists in two versions: one for educators and one for students. A director of the Office of Black Student Affairs on the campus reports that the tape helped greatly in building up support for racial tolerance on her campus. Miami University in Ohio uses an interactive video during its Cultural Awareness Program that features the personal experiences of students who have been involved in racial incidents. The video is meant to stimulate discussion among students by presenting them with questions, such as whether there is a typical black student and how would they react to having a black roommate.

Others report that peer counseling can be quite effective in dealing with sexual harassment. Trained student volunteers work with other students across the campus as peer educators, leading information and discussion sessions. Of course, regular, professional counselors are required, too, but the combination of students and professionals can be positive and productive.

In short, universities are supposed to educate. If faculties cannot reach most students and show them the evils of hatred, prejudice, and discrimination, they need additional training themselves. They ought not to be given the easy way out of their responsibilities by regulating the expression of hate while leaving the hate itself unscathed. Hate is an ugly and unwholesome human expression all by itself; and it is particularly detrimental to building and sustaining the mutual support and commitment to shared undertakings on which community thrives.

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