03/22/2004

Conference Addresses Hate Studies Program

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Scholars gathered here March 18-20 for a conference designed to establish the nation's first academic program of hate studies.

Hosted by the Gonzaga Institute for Action Against Hate, the groundbreaking conference was held at Gonzaga University's campus.

The Center was a sponsor of the International Conference to Establish the Field of Hate Studies, and its co-founder and chief legal counsel, Morris Dees, was the keynote speaker at the conference's closing banquet. He offered encouragement and hope to an audience of more than 200.

"It is so important that we make this nation for all our people," Dees said.

Other conference sponsors were the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Kootenai County (Idaho) Task Force on Race Relations, and the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center in Canada.

Specialists from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, journalism, law and education, attended the meeting. They provided their expertise in developing curricula for colleges and universities that adopt hate studies programs.

"An academic program is desperately needed to study why hatred has been a common human experience," said Ken Stern, a member of the Institute's board and a specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism with the AJC. Stern was the keynote speaker on March 19.

"While various academic disciplines have important things to say about hate, they are all prisoners of their own methodology, and each looks at the phenomenon in frustrating isolation," Stern said.

"Hate, however, doesn't work in such a piecemeal fashion. It impacts all of our lives. It's not just a hate group here, a discriminatory practice there. Hate informs hundreds of wide-ranging concerns, among them how we prepare our children to live in an increasingly diverse nation, how we train our police, and how America will be viewed by friends and foes around the globe. An interdisciplinary approach is needed."

The Center has used the judicial system to effectively bankrupt organized hate groups and it developed pioneering tolerance education programs to stem the growth of hate in future generations.

Dees and the Center were appropriate partners for the event, having used legal tactics to fight hate in Gonzaga University's backyard. In 2000, the Center successfully sued the notorious neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, shutting down its compound in northern Idaho (see Keenan v. Aryan Nations). The compound had turned the northwest region into a gathering place for some of the most dangerous white supremacists in the country.

The Gonzaga Institute for Action Against Hate was founded in 1997 with the goal of combating hate through research, education and advocacy. Laurie Wood, senior intelligence analyst and law enforcement training coordinator for the Center's Intelligence Project, serves on the Institute's board and was a member of the conference steering committee.

"The conference was a great first step toward establishing a core curriculum of hate studies," Wood said. "The Center is fortunate to connect with a wide range of experts in this field and to play a role in building a model program at Gonzaga University."