When protestors spew hate on campus, Penn has a choice of how to respond.
In a panel titled "Love Wins: Responding to Hate in our Community," held Wednesday and open to the public, community leaders discussed the different appropriate reactions to hate speech and hate crime.
Panelist Nancy Baron-Baer, Philadelphia regional director of the Anti-Defamation League and 1978 Penn Law School graduate, stressed that students have a personal choice in how close they get to the demonstrators in public spaces like College Green.
“Students need to do what makes them most comfortable,” Baron-Baer said. “For some it will be, ‘I’m not going to give in on that. I’m going to walk the way I always walk.’ But for others, they are going to feel, ‘I don’t need that today. I don’t need to be bombarded with hate speech.’"
For the latter, Baron-Baer recommended walking an alternative route to class to avoid undue negativity. For all members of the community, however, she emphasized the importance of not engaging in direct conflict with the demonstrators, as it could allow them to make a profit off suing counter-protestors.
Baron-Baer recalled a particularlly striking demonstration of solidarity on Penn’s campus when neighboring fraternity Alpha Tau Omega held a “Tolerance Barbecue” to promote a sense of resilience when Westboro Baptist Church, known for its hate speech, announced its plans to picket in front of Hillel in 2009.
The panel discussion was one of many events hosted by Penn’s African-American Resource Center for its 22nd annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Social Change. Held from Jan. 15 through Feb. 2, the symposium includes a range of activities such as service opportunities, film screenings and panel discussions.
According to its website, the MLK symposium is dedicated to “sharing our strengths and diversity as we commemorate Dr. King has an impact that can be felt across both the University of Pennsylvania’s campus and the Philadelphia community as a whole.”
Panelist and University Chaplain Rev. Chaz Howard said students should address acts of hatred and discrimination in the community by standing up for one another.
“Activism takes different forms,” Howard said. “It’s not just the hate of racists that hurts, but it’s the silence of loved ones.”