A mid-November keynote marked the start of a new educational series at Carnegie Mellon University aimed at dismantling hate by illuminating its root causes.
The series’ inaugural keynote speaker, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, shared his reflections as a survivor of the hostage crisis at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, in January 2022. Following his talk, Michal Friedman(opens in new window), the Jack Buncher Endowed Chair of Jewish Studies in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences(opens in new window)’ Department of History(opens in new window), moderated a discussion with the rabbi and took questions from the audience.
“CMU is a place that prioritizes teaching and learning, which is what brought us here today to the start of a series focused on exploring the long history of antisemitism and its devastating impact on society,” said James H. Garrett Jr.(opens in new window), provost and chief academic officer, who provided opening remarks along with Wanda Heading-Grant(opens in new window), vice provost for diversity, equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer. “The heartbreaking developments in the Middle East have dominated headlines and impacted our lives over the last few months. To say that this series has arrived at a relevant and necessary time in history and in our society is an understatement.”
"CMU is a place that prioritizes teaching and learning, which is what brought us here today." — Provost James H. Garrett
Heading-Grant said at times like this, people are looking for a solution that will meet everyone’s needs, and unfortunately that expectation is just not realistic.
“These moments are extraordinarily complex, challenging, emotional, messy and painful, and there will never be a quick fix,” Heading-Grant said. “Often the best thing we can do is commit to acts of love and kindness, support those in pain, and ask for extended grace, vulnerability and empathy from each other as we find our way through these difficult times.”
Heading-Grant pointed out that history has consistently shown education to be society’s most powerful tool for eradicating hate.
“Whether we’re talking about antisemitism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, racism and many other isms, we must learn about how systems of oppression work together to perpetuate injustices, inequalities and harms in this world so we are better equipped to confront and dismantle them in all of their forms,” she said.
In his talk, Cytron-Walker explored actionable strategies for creating a more inclusive and unified society. Among them, he suggested people consider the media they’re consuming.
“It’s so easy to live in an echo chamber right now,” he said. “For a long time, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen to read CNN and Fox News. Right now, pick an Israeli publication and Al Jazeera and read them both to get an understanding. That might be hard for you to read some of what you’re coming across, and yet if we can’t do that in our own personal life in terms of the media we consume, how can I sit down with somebody who might disagree with me on any number of issues? It’s not always easy to live in that space, but that’s the space that we need to encounter, that we need to occupy more often.”
In the end, Cytron-Walker said the primary lesson he took away from his experience is that everyone needs love and support.
“So many stories of extremism are about people who were reaching out and did not find love and support. When you see someone on campus who is clearly having a difficult time, even if you’re a stranger, to be able to say, ‘I don’t know you, but I care’ — it means the world,” he said. “And if you’re willing to do that, no matter what the issue is in life, there is probably nuance. There is probably a story to share. There is probably a story to hear. And if we are willing to listen, we probably have something to learn in the process.”