The Gonzaga Center for the Study of Hate’s Future Is Uncertain
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News Story by Cassy Benefield
The Gonzaga Center for the Study of Hate may not exist when students return to campus this fall.
The Center sits in a budgetary unknown due to a “Grand Challenge” strategic planning process implemented by Provost Sacha Kopp that has yet to be finalized and announced.
Kopp released one statement in response to FāVS News’ questions on the Center’s current status and when that would be publicized.
“We have nothing to report about Gonzaga’s Center for the Study of Hate, or any other campus entity’s budget, as this work is in progress,” Kopp said in an email. “Gonzaga is in the midst of updating its strategic plan and will remain engaged in leading efforts to combat hate regionally and nationally.”
However, many believe the Center’s budget is likely to be eliminated or the Center’s existence significantly restructured.
Kristine Hoover — who recently finished a one-year term with the title “past director” of the Center after having served as the director for two, three-year terms before that — agreed that Gonzaga University combats hate beyond the Center.
She said this is demonstrated by GU’s Leading Against Hate speakers series. She also added that the administration does not tell faculty what they can and cannot research and teach, and they encourage faculty to engage in grant applications to support their teaching and studies.
GU’s Lack of Transparency in Budget Process
But, while the Center worked in “good faith” to defend its existence within the next year’s budgetary structure, Hoover did not think the administration had in return.
“There is an ethic here of transparency and decision making,” she said. “I think there are many tough decisions that have to get made, but they should be able to stand in the light of day with why they were made and how they were made.”
“For the past several years, Gonzaga provided $30,000 in annual funding for the Center, approximately $15,000 for students in the form of graduate assistantships, as well as $15,000 used primarily for ‘course release’ funding in compensation for the director’s position,” Hoover said.
As of the writing of this piece, the hiring of a new director is also unknown.
The ‘Birth of Hate Studies’
The Center began more than 25 years ago when Black GU law students on campus received anonymous racist threats. In addition, the region’s history fighting the Aryan Nations in Hayden, Idaho, also inspired GU to make an academic home for hate studies.
Antisemitism and hate studies expert Ken Stern — who co-founded the Center and is an advisory board member — identified the Center as the “birth of hate studies” in a region rife in a history of hate.
GU felt it was important globally and to their campus, students and faculty, according to Stern. So, they told the original founders, “’We’ll figure out how to make this work,’” he said.
Today, northwest states rank very high as places where hate flourishes, according to the 2021 State of Hate Index. Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho respectively rank 20th, 29th, 50th and 51st in the nation. Idaho ranks last behind Washington, D.C.
With these stats in mind, the uncertain fate of the Center “troubles” Stern.
“This should be the time where Gonzaga should brag and say we were there first. We were the one who opened people’s thinking to [hate studies] as an academic [discipline],” Stern said.
Raising Money Never Has Been Easy
Funding the Center has always been a challenge, though, said George Critchlow, a cofounder and advisory board member along with Stern.
He remembered a time when he spoke about the Center with the Rev. Robert Spitzer, who was the president of GU from 1998 to 2009. He explained to Spitzer the Center’s role in interdisciplinary studies structured specifically around hate.
Spitzer thought the idea was a good one, but Critchlow said his response was, “’But George, no one starts a new center, a new institute, a new sort of program, without foundational funding … you can’t be successful.’”
He reflects back and thinks Spitzer was right, but at the time his answer to him was, “Who knows what’s going to happen. If we build it, maybe they’ll come.”
“If we had been successful in raising big dollars, if we had found a donor, or a handful of donors, who wrote some big checks, it would not have been hard at all for us to become better insinuated and established at Gonzaga,” Critchlow said.
‘Hate’ as an Academic Study also a Challenge
The idea of using the word hate in an academic discipline tends to not only “make people squirm” but to also push fundraisers away, Critchlow said.
“[People] are uncomfortable with the kind of vibration and energy and connotations that are produced when people started talking about hate,” he said. “They would prefer to talk about the goal of working towards peace and love and harmony and coexistence and ways of thinking about life that are expressed in in sort of positive ways.”
And there are places and fields of studies for those goals, said Hoover.
However, she believes in the importance of the study of hate, specifically.
“It is the enactment of what I interpret as the Jesuit mission of leaning into the tension, of leaning into the grittiness of humanity, of asking the harder questions and making a distinctive contribution to the academy,” Hoover said. “Sometime these types of real complexities are called wicked problems and they require multiple perspectives.”
That’s what hate studies contributes, she added, in addition to peace and justice studies.
“We shine a light in the darker corners,” she said.
The Legacy of Those Who Study and Combat Hate
Hoover explained that what the Center lacked in funds over the years, it more than made that up in individual and community support, from student volunteers to GU English professors and from regional human rights nonprofits to international hate studies academics.
The outgrowth of the passion of individuals and community members live today in the four pillars of the Center and its work, she said. These are:
- International Conference of Hate Studies (the first of its kind and something hosted by the Center every two years)
- The Journal of Hate Studies (the only of its kind that includes articles that cross academic disciplines and include different methodologies on the study of hate)
- Awards and Endowments: Including the Eva Lassman Awards (seed funded by the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and given to community organizations and individuals who make significant contributions against hate) and student endowments by GU that support research in any form of othering
- Interdisciplinary coursework
Whatever the future, Critchlow is proud of what the Center has accomplished and that hate studies has grown far beyond what the Center at GU started in 1998.
But the success is “double-edged, as all the work of students, faculty, staff and community members, as well as the money they were able to raise over the years, seems to be unrecognized by the current administration,” he said.
“I just am a little frustrated that whoever is in charge of making larger kinds of decisions around curriculum and budgets and mission decisions, wouldn’t immediately and profoundly recognize and want to sort of maintain that presence of a hate studies program in Spokane, especially since they’ve already got 25 years under their belt, and knowledge and presence around this program that go way beyond Spokane.”
Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a ‘y’) Benefield is a wife and mother, a writer and photographer and a huge fan of non-fiction. She has traveled all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (2004-2006) to Romania where she mainly taught Conversational English. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, California. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a religion nerd who is prone to buy more books, on nearly any topic, than she is ever able to read. She is the associate editor of FāVS.News.