UM Hate Crimes Forum

Last night, I attended a forum on the University of Montana campus, as part of an annual event called DiverseU. It was a forum on hate crimes and there were three sets of panelists, totaling 12 speakers all together. Unfortunately, I don’t think they advertised it very well, as there was relatively poor attendance. There were maybe 75-100 of us to start off, scattered out around 400 chairs or so. After the first panel was done, over half of the people left. By the time the third panel started – running well behind schedule and beginning their session at 9:00pm, when the event was set to end – only about a dozen of us were left to give them our sleepy-eyed but undivided attention.

Who knows. Maybe they did advertise it well and people just weren’t drawn to the topic, knowing full well that it would be a hard evening to endure. For me personally, there are some things I am willing and glad to do even when I have something else scheduled that requires cancelling; even when I’m tired; even when I’d prefer to haul up at home; even when I know my heart will ache deeply in unison with the people when I go. This forum was one such occasion.

As a spiritual leader in a Buddhist community, I want the people who come through our doors to feel welcome, safe, cared for, supported, loved, and accepted. And anything I can do to better educate myself and expand my understanding and compassion, the better.

Here are some notes I scribed down last night:

 From Officer Ethan Smith, of the Missoula Police Dept: “We need more bystander intervention training in Misosula… Report things – get out your phone and take action (if you see acts of hate or discrimination taking place)…In police training, if you’re in denial of your own bias, you’re wrong – we all have it.”

The LGBTQ community is now ranked the #1 targeted demographic for hate crimes in the U.S, surpassing the former #1 demographic: the Jewish community.

Self reflection note: I am not part of any of these marginalized groups represented by the Community Speaks panel: LGBTQ, Native American women, Jewish, of color, or Muslim. I have little idea of what it means to be discriminated against. I am white, heterosexual, privileged, and incredibly unaware of how the impacts of such things as the color of your skin, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religious preference can spur such fear and hatred from other fellow human beings.

From Laurie Franklin, rabbinical intern at Har Shalom: “There is no gain in saying “my trauma is bigger than yours,” it just is… Tolerance is not the same as true acceptance…I am willing to cry and I willing to be filled with sorrow but I am not willing to be intimidated.”

From Murray Pierce, of the UM Black Student Union: “We live in a time that requires great reflection…Listen, support, encourage reporting, educate, and follow up.

From Drew Colling, of UM’s Student Advocacy Resource Center (SARC): “What eradicates hate and bias is personal connection, forming relationships.”

Self reflection note: In order to weather startling facts and stats without being swept away in despair, we need resources for bolstering our inner landscape, developing our character, and rallying our arsenal of virtues.

Self reflection note: We can only respond to great hardship and tragedy with a grounding presence when we have (and use) the necessary tools to cultivate love, kindness, and understanding ongoingly in our life on the daily.


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