Gonzaga Studies Hate

Glenn Ricketts

Hate Studies?  That’s the “study of hatred,” mind you, not the “hatred of studies” which is a different kind of affliction.  I hadn’t heard of this novel field of inquiry until a perplexed reporter asked me about the NAS take on it.  I confessed my unfamiliarity, and he referred me to a new program at Gonzaga University in Spokane, where the Institute for Action Against Hate had begun offering courses in the Spring of 2009.  I accessed the Institute’s web site, which provides this description:

The Gonzaga Institute for Action Against Hate was founded as a positive and enduring vehicle for combating hate and hate crimes on campuses and in communities throughout the nation. While numerous government and non-governmental organizations are working against hate, the Institute is the only organization whose primary goal is to focus multi-disciplinary academic resources on the causes and effects of hate as well as potential strategies for combating hate. 

What did I think of all of this?  I dodged the question. Now of course, I knew exactly what I thought (“Here we go again!”), but bit my tongue. Despite Gonzaga’s Jesuit affiliation, I had a sneaking hunch that its “hate studies program” didn’t reflect an invigorated emphasis on the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes.  Anyway, I told the reporter that I was skeptical, in view of the “anti-hate” measures already being enforced full-tilt on so many college campuses. I noted that we already have nearly ubiquitous “diversity training,” mischievously elastic speech and harassment codes, and “bias incident” surveillance systems assiduously monitoring “hate” on many college and university campuses. See for example our previous entries about the University of Delaware’s Residence Life program or the “bias reporting” system at Williams College.  We also have ideological advocacy in the many other specialty “studies” programs of longstanding: women’s studies, black studies, Latino studies, gay studies, peace studies, environmental studies, etc., etc., etc.  Still just guessing, I concluded that it seemed unlikely that this new program, or any others which it might inspire, would depart from the familiar dreary litany of “racism, sexism, classism, homophobia,” usually attributed to an archetypal White Male Villain.   

Now that I’ve had an opportunity to take that closer look, it appears my skepticism was justified. The Gonzaga Institute for Action Against Hate isn’t totally new. It was founded in 1997, following a series of threats and genuinely hateful messages sent over three years to minority students in the university’s law school.  The messages came from white supremacists in the Idaho headquarters of Aryan Nation.  The messages were despicable and the messengers as unwholesome a lot as might be cast up with the trailings of abandoned mines.  Gonzaga’s reaction was peculiarly academic.  It decided to combat Aryan Nation by studying them to death.   It created the Institute to “study hate and hate crimes, the seeds of these evils, and their effects on society.”    

The Institute’s activities have gradually expanded.  In 2001, it began publishing The Journal of Hate Studies, and in 2004 organized its first International Conference on Hate Studies, with a second such event scheduled for April, 2011.  Last spring, the program began offering the first courses in its anticipated undergraduate major including “Hate Studies in Business” and “Why People Hate: Interdisciplinary Perspectives.”  Sounds impressive, and one can always hope for the program’s success.  On the face of it, there’s nothing necessarily amiss if, say, psychologists, moral theologians or ethicists try to size up “hate” as a manifestation of extreme malice or ill will directed by some people toward someone or something else, since it can indeed spawn some very destructive behavior.  So what could be wrong with a program that’s devoted to combating and eliminating hate?  Aren’t those goals that we can all agree on?  Count me in, since I’m all for busting on creepy organizations like the Aryan Nation, the American Nazi Party, and the Ku Klux Klan. 

Alas, I’ve also got to stick with my initial doubts. The Gonzaga program is essentially an exercise in amplifying cultural clichés.  The Institute is awash to the gunwales in multiculturalism, “diversity,” “holistic” pedagogy (just like sustainability, remember?) and post-colonialism, and pretty obviously aims at converting its students into political activists.  A recent article in the Journal of Hate Studies provides a sense of the ethos underlying the Institute’s efforts: 

A critical pedagogical approach, which is rooted in the liberation of the student [“liberation,” that is, from what the author notes are “cultural, historical and political forces” which students “may not recognize”], in challenging oppressive structures, and in developing critical thinking skills, is the underlying theory that provides students and teachers with the guidance to think about their intentions, to challenge and question their own practices, and to understand themselves as participatory agents responsible for the construction of societal ideals, values and structures. 

A page or two later, the author cites the development of a “critical consciousness” as an indispensable component in any hate studies curriculum, since it will enable students to “make connections between their classroom learning and their out-of-class experiences:” 

The hate studies curriculum, if it is truly to be just, democratic, and caring, must provide the opportunities to make these essential connections, for it is through these connections that students can expose the problems within society and create new ways of living together that are free of false constraints such as racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, or ageism. 

The thematic focus in the journal never departs from this doggedly familiar roster, although homophobia, sexism and “transgender oppression” as forms of “hate” are particularly prominent in recent issues.  The current number also includes two articles which focus on Nazism and Hitler’s genocidal anti-Semitism, which I’ve often seen juxtaposed with the other instances of “hate” noted above.  For me, at least, that’s more than a little problematic, and approaches intellectual sharp practice.  While Nazism is an especially poisonous strain of genuine “hate,” it’s in a class by itself, many leagues distant from just about any other category of evil.  And because the crimes of Nazism so easily and appropriately arouse revulsion and horror, it’s hard to suppress the feeling that its inclusion – here and elsewhere - serves to manipulate students by inducing them to “fight hate,” such as – here we go - racism, sexism, transgender oppression, etc. Unlike those docile, compliant Germans of yore, they aren’t going to just stand idly by. No, they’re presumably going to get out there as “participatory agents responsible for the construction of social ideals” and challenge “oppressive structures.”  

This is to say that despite it its somewhat novel name, the Gonzaga program differs very little from the dubious PC initiatives and policies that are endemic in American higher ed.  It contrasts with the usual fare only in respect that it brings everything together under a single administrative roof and has its own budget and staff, complete with graduate assistants.   

All in all, the Gonzaga program’s content isn’t terribly original stuff, and brings to mind many, many analogous circumstances throughout the contemporary academy.  Take, for instance, the recent attempt by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities College of Education and Human Development to impose “cultural competence” on aspiring teachers as a condition for certification.  Under the for-now-shelved standards, teacher candidates would be required to endorse otherwise controversial and arbitrary notions of “white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity and internalized oppression.” The Minnesota standard, in turn, is simply a fortified version of the certification criteria long employed by academic accrediting organizations such as NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) or CSWE (Council for Social Work Education)  Recall that if you want professional certification for your respective teacher education or social work academic programs from either of these accreditors, you’re well advised to give “social justice,” “diversity” and awareness of “oppressive structures” a high degree of visibility in your mission statement.  At Gonzaga, they’ve simply taken all of these tediously familiar categories and given them a new label and a separate administrative status.  But now it’s at least official: we at Gonzaga are studying hate and we’re teaching our students how to combat it.  I don’t doubt that many residence life directors, bias reporting offices, diversity training facilitators, deans for multicultural affairs and Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development have already contacted the program’s placement office.

The sad irony here is that I don’t think that Gonzaga’s new program is going to teach us anything new or revealing about hatred as a permanent and often destructive factor in human history.  That’s too bad, because there’s no reason why a principled academic inquiry couldn’t try to make sense of the virulent animosities that have moved groups of people to detest or dismember each other.  To my mind, the appearance and persistence of hate often seems to defy commonsense assumptions, especially if we’re able to escape the “race, class, gender” cul-de-sac in which Gonzaga’s program and much of academia seem so comfortably trapped. What, for example, explains the hatred between Serbs and Croats, who are ethnically and linguistically kindred?  Or how about the fierce hatred among the white, Anglo-Scottish Protestants who grimly slaughtered each other during the American Civil War? And speaking of Nazis, why would their uniquely venomous, passionate anti-Semitism take hold of a seemingly “civilized” country such as Germany, with its relatively small Jewish population?  Why do so many American academics, who relentlessly preach “tolerance,” seem to hate evangelical Christians? (see p.15 of the report to which the link connects).  The list could be extended indefinitely, but I think it’s clear that “hate” is multifaceted, complex and ubiquitous, and could certainly be the worthwhile subject of academic scrutiny.  The Institute for Action Against Hate, unfortunately, doesn’t seem like the place where that’s going to happen.  They’ve already established most of their answers, without really asking the serious questions. 

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