When Hate Comes Your Way: Lesson Learned by the Greenspon Center
When hate comes your way or to an organization you know, which we hope it never does, there are things that one can do to respond in ways that are effective, if not, transformative.
When it comes to college campuses, the statistics are alarming. According to Hillel International, during the summer of 2021, 32% of college students experienced antisemitism on campus, 79% reported it happening more than once, and 15% of all students surveyed, are too afraid to even tell their friends, roommates, or teammates they are Jewish.
Sadly, our Queens University campus became part of that statistic in late April, as swastikas were scrawled on three doors of our Hillel students. The Stan Greenspon Center staff is part of a community team of first responders to antisemitism. Here are some of the lessons we teach as a Center, that we put into action and that may inform individuals and organizations you know that encounter the same.
Put safety first
Make sure students’ or victims’ physical safety and emotional wellbeing are secured. On our campus that meant immediately increasing security for all our Hillel students and providing counselors to those who were impacted.
Inform the police, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and your local Jewish Federation. Tracking hate crimes and bias incidents is critical.
Denounce the act and provide accurate information
If it is at a school, be certain the school administration denounces the acts in unambiguous terms. It is important acts are labelled (e.g. as an act of antisemitism, homophobia, racism or Islamophobia). Silence or lack of clarity creates confusion allowing anxiety, fear, misinformation, and distrust to grow. Dispel misinformation by sharing the facts you know.
Communication happens quickly as information unfolds. If your communication misses the mark, take time to author a next draft with input from community experts.
Work with community experts
There are many community leaders such as the ADL, the Stan Greenspon Center, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust, and Hillel International (for college campus incidents) that are ready to help. Utilize them to review your messaging, share best practices, and/or to stand with you in support.
Support targeted students
If the incident is at a school, create an open and direct line of communication between the administration and impacted students. On the Queens’ campus, our initial response included immediate emails of support to the students from the Dean of Students and the President of the University. The Campus Rabbi and Coordinator of Jewish Life were available with calls, emails, and a gathering around a fire pit for conversation. The President of Queens invited all of our Hillel students to meet with him on a Sunday morning. Our students felt fully supported.
Work with the media
For organizations, creating a media plan is critical. A minor incident might not make it to headlines but broader media attention can come one’s way. Writing a brief two to three sentence media statement can help to control the message.
Seek justice, avoid blame
Rumor mills can cause greater harm. Affirm the Jewish values (or your community’s values) of honor, respect, inclusion, not gossiping, and more. Remind community members of the importance of reserving judgment until all facts are in.
Offer support to the entire community connected to the victim. Other minorities can also be triggered by events aimed at one minority.
Every single person has a role to play. Ask yourself, “What can I do?” We are all part of the solution. We are all called to be alongside those who have been hurt and care for those who’ve been affected, in order to create a safe, inclusive, and caring community for all.
At Queens, we created a “Stand for Unity” gathering where 200 students, staff, faculty and community members came out in support. Student musicians played healing music, the victims spoke with courage, and the student body and campus community shared their understanding of the extent of the harm that was caused. For an hour afterwards, the community lingered to offer words of support, hugs, and commitments to engage with Hillel and to craft a safe and affirming community in the weeks and years to come.
The outpouring from the Jewish and interfaith communities, broader Charlotte leadership and Queens alumni helped the healing process. We embraced the community expression of concern that came our way and shared some of those messages as they were so moving.
We learned that far too many on our campus do not understand the meaning of antisemitism, the history of hate that the swastika holds, and the harm that chalk or a marker in one person’s hand can cause. Our Coordinator of Jewish Life, Noah Goldman, is leading a summer book group for the campus community on Deborah Lipstadt’s book, Antisemitism: Here and Now. Hillel International has created some short films to educate those who don’t have time to attend programs entitled, Understanding Antisemitism on Campus with short films on the topics of “What is Judaism?” (16:40 minutes), “History of antisemitism’ (9:45 minutes), and “Antisemitism today” (17 minutes).
We are working to secure funding to create a Jewish Student Ambassadors program and train our Hillel students how to share their own faith stories, teach about Judaism to their peers, and gain the skills to combat antisemitism and other forms of hate.
The Stan Greenspon Center offers support in crafting curricular responses so that hate crimes and bias incidents become an educational opportunity.
Let hate not be the last word
When and if hate happens in your life, let hate not be the last word. For there is a long path to healing and transformative education that follows. We are taking it ourselves at the Greenspon Center at Queens University and are here to help you navigate that path if it tragically touches your life.