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Beloit College hosts “Responses to Hate” panel

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One of the ways in which Beloit College faculty responded to the anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crimes committed on campus last weekend was through a “Responses to Hate” panel held on Wed, Feb. 1.

The panel was organized by Ann Davies, Provost and Dean of the College, following a faculty and staff meeting on the morning of Mon, Jan. 3 that addressed the Islamophobic threats and vandalism on campus, reported the early hours of that day. Davies told The Round Table that the Beloit faculty are seeking to provide a number of responses to the incidents, building upon and complementing already scheduled events at the college, such as this year’s #GetWoke sessions.

The panel featured Professors Daniel Brueckenhaus, Heath Massey, Beatrice McKenzie and Lisa Anderson-Levy. Each speaker had been asked to reflect upon hate, specifically the type of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that the college witnessed on Monday and the morning of Sat, Jan. 28. Each did so through the lens of their own discipline.

Davies opened the discussion by telling the students and faculty present that in the United States’ current political climate, “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia are given permission,” and that it was this that allowed the hate crimes at Beloit to occur. She said that she believes these are times at which liberal arts education and receptive, critical thinking are at their most important.

Assistant Professor of History Daniel Brueckenhaus approached the situation by explaining the rise to power of former Vienna mayor Karl Lueger. Lueger was the leader of the anti-Semitic Austrian Christian Socialist Party. At the end of the 19th century, he gained popularity among elites in Vienna by appealing to their fears of losing power and status to immigrants, the artisan class, and Jewish people, and by claiming that he would “liberate” white conservatives. Lueger found that this rhetoric was effective; he served as mayor of Vienna from 1897 until his death in 1910. During this time, much of his legislative measures were viciously anti-Semitic. While living in Vienna at the end of Lueger’s time in power, a young Adolf Hitler was heavily influenced by the former mayor’s views.

In telling this story, Brueckenhaus sought to remind Beloit that Donald Trump’s Islamophobic legislation is not isolated in political history; on the contrary, the past is clearly repeating itself in the U.S. today. Brueckenhaus also asked those present to be aware that one radical in power has the potential to influence many more.

Heath Massey, Associate Professor of Philosophy, began his comments by summarizing French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1946 essay Anti-Semite and Jew, which argues that anti-Semitism is not an opinion, so it does not deserve to be respected as one. Sartre wrote that anti-Semitism is instead a passion―an irrational choice to hate. Like Islamophobia, Massey said, it is characterized by “imperviousness to reason” and by contempt as well as hatred.

Massey followed by discussing Karen Stohr’s New York Times editorial “Our New Age of Contempt,” a recent criticism of Sartre’s work. Stohr argues that Sartre encouraged contempt for anti-Semites and that “returning contempt for contempt legitimizes its presence in the public sphere.” Professor Massey asked the audience whether it’s possible to hold any person in contempt without dehumanizing them.

Associate Professor of History Beatrice McKenzie reminded the audience that the U.S. is built upon white supremacy, and examined this statement through the lens of Asian-American history. She explained that when the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, the U.S. government had intended to bar only unskilled Chinese laborers from the country. However, conservative legislators quickly stretched the act out over all Chinese immigrants, then all immigrants who came from east of an imaginary line. The assumption eventually grew that no Asian-American was a citizen, and Americans with eastern Asian heritage were barred from voting and exercising other constitutional rights. That climate enabled the implementation of Japanese internment in the U.S. 60 years later, said McKenzie.

Lisa Anderson-Levy, Associate Professor of Anthropology, was the final panelist to speak. She explained that the center of her academic work is “understanding difference writ-large.” Professor Anderson-Levy believes that the community needs to “keep whiteness at the center of what we’re doing and how we’re thinking,” and remember that whiteness is determined by those in power and that its definition has changed over the course of U.S. history.

Anderson-Levy attempted to answer the question “what can we do?” for those present. She argued that having uncomfortable conversations with people of other viewpoints is essential in order to know “how to deal” when something like this happens. She also spoke about her dislike of the word “ally” because of its colonial implications of advocacy, and encouraged allies to become “accomplices” instead.

Davies said that Wednesday’s panel was important because it reminded the Beloit College community that “we shouldn’t be shocked [by these acts of hate]; hate and oppression aren’t new,” and that “Beloit is not separated from the national context.” She hopes students will take part in organizing future events with the same educational goals in mind.

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