Sacred Heart University’s lecture series, Heart Challenges Hate, came to a close at the end of April after four complex and eye-opening discussions. The last lecture on religion was especially timely, as it occurred just three days after the Easter Sunday tragedy in Sri Lanka.
In January, the University decided to respond to the troubling prevalence of violence in the world with a discussion series that examined the roots and resolutions of hate. Students, faculty and staff gathered for talks on the psychology and rhetoric of hate and hate in the context of the First Amendment and religion.
“A University, especially a Catholic University as ours, whose mission is rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition and whose core values focus on the dignity of each person and the importance of the common good, has a critical responsibility to respond to the culture of hatred, bigotry and violence with knowledge, reason, faith and dialogue,” said Michelle Loris, associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and Catholic studies chair. “We have a critical role to play in sustaining a democratic society in which we maintain the open flow of ideas, the rule of law, the acceptance of diversity and, most especially, respect for human dignity and the common good. We have a critical responsibility to uphold the faith values of respect, justice, love and peace.”
At each discussion, professors explored the issues at hand and students grappled with figuring effective ways to combat hate. At the first discussion, psychology professor Christina Taylor said hate is learned behavior and people have the ability to choose between good and evil. During the second discussion, delving into the rhetoric of hate, Professor Bill Yousman recommended boycotting advertisers, writing letters and speaking out as ways to combat hate speech. He also suggested the audience learn media literacy skills to determine what’s real news and what’s fake.
At the third discussion, professors Gary Rose and Jennifer McLaughlin discussed how the First Amendment allows for free speech, even speech that may be difficult to digest, but it does not allow for speech that leads to violent or hateful action. The talk also noted the significance of language that affects the way people think, feel and behave.
The final lecture, “Religion: Part of the Problem or a Remedy for Hate?” began with a prayer service to honor the Sri Lanka bombing victims and their families. Once prayers were said by Fr. Anthony Ciorra, vice president for Mission and Catholic Identity, and by the campus chaplains—Imam Gazmend Aga and Rabbi Marcelo Kormis—the three clergy members discussed their thoughts on religion’s role in in the growing incidence of hate. They all agreed religion is a remedy. Kormis reminded the audience in the Chapel of the Nativity that all people are created in the image and likeness of God and that, as a society, everyone needs to work together to build bridges and fight discrimination. The clergy agreed that action based on love and respect must take place to stop hate.
Loris plans to gather a small committee to produce the series again next year. She said taking part in something that challenges people and encourages them to take a stand is important for the Sacred Heart community.