The morning of the Galesburg United Against Hate event, senior Haley Richter spoke on the phone with her father about her grandmother being forced to evacuate her local Jewish community center after it received a bomb threat.
“I was talking to my dad about that this morning and then saw that this [event] was happening at a synagogue and it all came together perfectly. I needed an outlet to just think about all the stuff that’s been going on,” Richter said.
Nationally, over 50 Jewish community centers have experienced bomb threats nationwide. On Monday Feb. 20 alone, 11 bomb threats at Jewish community centers were recorded.
“I didn’t even know [the synagogue] was here. I’ve lived here my whole life, I’ve never been in here. It’s so powerful,” junior Joey Peterson said.
During the event, which was held on Tuesday, Feb. 21, hundreds of Galesburg community members filled the synagogue, many standing and spilling out into the hallways.
“There were a lot of people there, that was a physical realization. I had to stand because so many people were there, which is awesome,” senior Liliana Coelho said. “I’ve gone to services at the synagogue before, and not many people have gone, and it was really cool just to see that many people in that space, tooÉ That felt important to me.”
At the beginning of the event, Jeremy Carlin and Rabbi Rebecca Kushner introduced former professor of journalism David Amor. Amor organized the event alongside Chair of Anthropology and Sociology Nancy Eberhardt and with the help of Temple Sholom.
“It’s heart-warming to see everyone here tonight,” Amor said, and introduced Outreach Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center Lecia Brooks.
Brooks works at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. She promotes tolerance and diversity and travels the country giving presentations on hate crimes. Brooks spoke earlier during the day at Knox.
Brooks began by discussing the origins of SPLC in 1971. The group has worked on the frontlines against hate organizations, reporting crimes and working with communities on how to fight back against hate speech in their everyday lives.
Since the election, the SPLC has had high reports of hate crimes: 1,372 reports as of early February. This is very high in comparison to the approximate 6,000 hate crimes reported annually by the FBI. Anti-immigrant sentiment is most common in hate crimes, followed by anti-Black and anti-Muslim rhetoric and an increased use of the swastika.
After Brooks spoke the original plan was to break the audience into small groups, but the crowd ended up being too large with not enough seats for all present. However, individuals stood and spoke out about problems in Galesburg and Brooks provided potential solutions.
Broadly, Brooks recommended that everyone “should be prepared to say something” if they were to witness scenes of harassment. Instead of being a bystander, she called on the group to be “upstanders.” The three key points she stressed were recording harassment with video or audio recordings, engaging the victim in conversation while ignoring the harasser and working with the victim to report the event afterward.
Post-baccalaureate Emily Roberts ‘16 asked how students could better engage in Galesburg when it is not their full-time home.
“This is your community for nine months,” Brooks said in response. She encouraged students to utilize their numbers while at college to build organizing and engagement skills they can bring to all the communities in which they live.
In addition to the small cluster of Knox students who attended the event, members of the Knox faculty and administration were also in attendance. Students from Carl Sandburg College and Monmouth College came as well and spoke about the importance of building community.
“We got to let people in,” Alex Davis, a student at Carl Sandburg, said during the meeting. “We need to celebrate diversity Ñ and it should be a celebration.”
Shoshana McClarence, a student at Monmouth College, brought three fellow students with them to the event.
“We’re really excited because it’s just a great opportunity to hear what other people have to say. Monmouth is such a small community, even smaller than Galesburg, and sometimes there are things that we just don’t know how to deal with otherwise, so it’s good to hear more responses,” they said.
“This is just the beginning,” Brooks said. Students and members of the Galesburg community echoed this sentiment and called for more events in the near future.
Eberhardt collected contact information from attendees to continue dialogue and action in the future. Knox students shared their hope for continued progress with Galesburg in the future.
“I hope that there’s more Knox involvement in the Galesburg community apart from volunteering, have the Knox and Galesburg communities come together and unite as one unit,” Richter said.