Herter Hall Graduate Students, Faculty Take Stand for ‘Tolerance for Diversity’

Herter Hall
Herter Hall

After posters linked to white supremacism were placed outside Herter Hall earlier this month, graduate students and faculty from various departments in the building began a “tolerance for diversity” initiative that includes a 500-word statement of principle and a call for responsible civic engagement.

The posters have been linked to a group identified as a white supremacist organization by the Anti-Defamation League and designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

On Nov. 16, members of the Herter community posted the slogan “Zivilcourage” in large letters across the windows of Herter Hall and in a number of languages.

Katrin Bahr, a doctoral student in German, is coordinator of the grass-roots response. “We decided to make a statement as a united body in Herter Hall,” she said.

“Zivilcourage,” roughly translated as the courage to stand for one’s beliefs, means that active participation is required in a civil society, and responsible citizens must demonstrate that hateful behavior will not be tolerated.

“You stand up for other people. When you see something, you say something. You actually have to take action,” Bahr said.

Jim Hicks, a senior lecturer in languages, literatures and cultures with an office in Herter, says the word also connotes “taking a stand when it’s risky.”

Hicks said Herter was targeted because of the disciplines housed there: eight languages; history; classics; languages, literatures and cultures;and Judaic and Near Eastern studies and because the organization responsible for the posters would like to claim those fields as its own.

“Since we had to assume that this propaganda and attempted recruiting drive, having targeted our building, also aimed at our disciplines, the faculty and graduate students of Herter Hall decided to respond,” he said.

The statement, under the heading “A Time for Civic Courage,” was published in a local newspaper over the signatures of four faculty members who lead departments in Herter Hall: Brian Breed, classics; David Mednicoff, Judaic and Near Eastern studies; Brian W. Ogilvie history; and Robert Sullivan, languages, literatures, and cultures.

It decries the white nationalist organization’s hate mongering, ignorance of history, and linking “European roots” with “American greatness.”

“Whatever one might mean by these vague concepts of ‘roots’ or ‘greatness,’ neither Europe nor America have ever been the sole preserve of ‘white people,’” the statement says.

The statement places the hateful posters on a long list of attacks on academic institutions by people whose “world view embraces racism, misogyny, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia.”

The statement rejects as misguided any claims by hate groups about “inherent European traits” and rejects “their willful ignorance of the diversity of both European and American history, and their belief in the putative superiority of European culture.”

The statement says contemporary white nationalism has also produced a resistance against itself in a “proud tradition” that includes Italian anti-fascists, Spanish anarchists, Germany’s White rose and the Polish, French and Czech undergrounds.

“To state the obvious: such ignorance has no place on our campus. We pledge, instead, to teach a full, open and inclusive view of our diverse histories and cultures. Our fields, our majors and our classes welcome all students, regardless of their linguistic, social, or ethnic identity, without exception,” the statement said.

Crafted by about 10 volunteers, the statement now carries the signatures of approximately 100 graduate students and faculty members.

Bahr says the response will continue this and next semester with a poster initiative encompassing more languages and expanding the conversation with the students, as well as consideration of workshops and courses on related history, diversity and tolerance.