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Speak out against Hatred and Bigotry

by Steven B. Sample
President, University of Southern California
September 21, 2001

It is not enough to refrain from speaking and acting in a hateful manner. As members of the Trojan Family we have an obligation to speak out against hatred and bigotry, no matter when or where we find them.

In the days since our country was suddenly and savagely attacked on September 11, we have all watched in horror as this catastrophe has unfolded before us. The world as we knew it has been dramatically shaken by an assault that was ? at its core ? a hate crime.

I am proud of this university community for the magnificent ways we have responded in this time of national crisis. The Trojan Family has truly come together in a common spirit. Hundreds of Trojans lined up for hours to donate much?needed blood to the American Red Cross. Many participated in the peace vigils that have occurred daily. Bovard Auditorium was overflowing as USC Dean of Religious Life Susan Laemmle led a moving interfaith service as part of the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance.

As we mourn those who died as a result of this monstrous and unprecedented hate crime, as we learn to cope with all the changes thrust upon us, it is vital that we remember we are a family. This is a time to include, not to exclude. We need to embrace those among us who may now be singled out or stigmatized because of their religion, ethnicity, national origin, or manner of dress.

Within a week of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, three additional people were brutally murdered here in America ? by Americans. Although ethnically and religiously different from one another ? an Indian Sikh in Arizona, a Pakistani Muslim in Texas, and an Egyptian Christian here in Los Angeles County ? these men were apparently killed in retaliation for the attacks against our country that occurred last week. But in point of fact, these three killings were simply additional attacks against all Americans.

It is during times such as this that we as Americans must be especially careful not to descend to the level of those cowardly fanatics who attacked our country. On the contrary, we must now more than ever stand up for the values that make this nation what it is.

It's not difficult to decry blatant acts committed against people for no other reason than their dress or ethnicity. But there are smaller acts of hatred and bigotry which we must also condemn: a mumbled slur, an offensive remark scrawled on a wall, destruction of property, as well as actual physical assaults. Make no mistake about it ? these are hate crimes, and they debase us all.

It is not enough to refrain from speaking or acting in a hateful manner. As members of the Trojan Family we have an obligation to speak out against hatred and bigotry, no matter when or where we find them.

Although we may not be the ones making cruel and degrading remarks or gestures, we often stand idly by while others demonstrate hostility toward people whose religion or ethnicity differs from that of the majority. Yet it is precisely this indifference, this willingness to let cruelty and intolerance pass unremarked, which we must combat.

Institutions and officials can do relatively little about the small everyday acts of harassment and intimidation that we as individuals allow to go unchallenged. As long as we let those small moments pass without calling attention to the injustice they represent, the threat to justice everywhere will continue. The world needs more men and women with the personal courage to take a stand against everyday acts of hatred and cruelty.

Thus, I call upon all of us to remember our responsibilities to ourselves and each other by speaking out against bigotry and intolerance whenever and wherever they occur. Only by this vigilance in our daily lives can we help promote justice everywhere.

As we struggle to cope with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on our country, what we must continue to demand and to demonstrate at this university ? and in this great country ? is a basic respect for the rights of all people. No secular law can mandate that everyone love everyone else. But in our USC community we can expect everyone to respect the rights and dignity of everyone else.