A year ago, violence broke out at a rally organized by white nationalists seeking to protect a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a counter-protester and sparking a national dialogue about race and identity in America.
The events of Aug. 11 and 12 of 2017 triggered Stronger Than Hate, a USC Shoah Foundation initiative that draws on the power of eyewitness testimony to help students and the general public recognize and counter antisemitism, racism, xenophobia and other forms of hatred.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see the end of this dark side of our humanity,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of USC Shoah Foundation. “However, we can create the kind of community and values that will be stronger than the hatred we know we will face.”
In the year since the Charlottesville tragedy, under the banner of Stronger Than Hate, USC Shoah Foundation has scaled up a host of programs to confront hatred and promote understanding and respect at a time when fear mongering, hate crimes, polarization and authoritarianism are on the rise worldwide.
Blake Humphrey, immediate past student body president of West Virginia University, said last year’s inaugural Intercollegiate Diversity Congress summit at USC Shoah Foundation for university student leaders has already left a mark on his campus.
Like many other campuses across the country, West Virginia University has grappled with racist activity of late, such as the proliferation of white nationalist posters on the premises.
The summit – which recurs in September – inspired Humphrey to coauthor several IWitness University activities on civility, empathy and intolerance. Beginning this fall, some of that work will be integrated into the programming for students at West Virginia University.
The young registered Republican added that he doesn’t think the world has learned much since the tragedy of Charlottesville.
“I just read the other day that there’s apparently another alt-right rally in Washington D.C. this weekend,” Humphrey said. “And there’s been an increase in the number of hate crimes of different minority populations and individuals. You’re seeing this continued rise in nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment.”
What’s the solution?
“I think that education viewed as the solution is a great start,” Humphrey said. “And I think that that’s one thing that IDC taught me – that USC Shoah Foundation taught me: that our pasts can be used to inform the present, which can guide the vision and direction that we’re going in in the future. To me that’s the power of survivor testimony.”