It has been a week since anti-Semitic posters adorned Cornell’s campus. I am a history major concentrating my studies on the Holocaust, and have been thinking about how we can make tangible change at Cornell. While the Nazis only ruled from 1933-45, the underlying foundation of hate has not been eradicated. In the powerful words of Prof. Timothy Snyder, history, Yale, “Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”
Inspired by Snyder, here are five things we can each do as Cornellians to combat discrimination on campus:
- Understand the complexities of being a follower. Most people assume every Nazi was an inhumane monster, and forget that almost all of Germany was complicit during the Holocaust. When we sit by and pretend not to know something is wrong or follow because we see no other alternative, we become part of the problem. Helping followers see that they have a choice to speak out is essential. For example, former neo-Nazi Frank Meeink was introduced to the white supremacist movement when he was 14 and was excited to be part of a loving camaraderie. It was not until a Jew treated Frank with extreme kindness that he realized everything he believed was wrong: “The minute you try to make me feel dumb or make me feel that my beliefs are stupid…I’m going to lash out…So we need to treat people with respect, and understand that them getting to know somebody is what’s going to work.” I want to emphasize that this argument is controversial and complicated. It is not going to work for everyone: most current neo-Nazi leaders and/or Holocaust deniers will not change their false views. But, there are collaborators and confused activists that will listen and reform when we have calm and constructive discussions with them.
- Go beyond social media. Social media is a powerful tool because it gives everyone their own individual platform to voice their opinions and messages quickly. While many find comfort in posting a Facebook status, tweet or Instagram, we can do more to express ourselves. Go to rallies. Talk to people face to face. Have a discussion. Leave the screen.
- Personally eliminate signs of hate. Cornell’s campus responded quickly: all of the anti-Semitic posters were taken down early Monday morning. But, anti-Semitism can be found elsewhere on campus. Last week, I spent a few days collecting over 70 books and journals written by Holocaust deniers. These books are mixed in the stacks of Olin Library among legitimate history books and memoirs on the Holocaust. The Diary of Anne Frank is right next to Felderer and the Institute for Historical Review’s Anne Frank’s Diary — A Hoax. These materials do not belong at Cornell; as Holocaust deniers do not supply a second opinion, but lie and distort evidence to promote their warped and dangerous arguments. Whether the Holocaust happened is not a subject of debate. I am no hero for checking out books, but, while these materials are in my possession, no one at Cornell can randomly stumble upon them and mistake them as legitimate sources. I understand the historical relevance of Holocaust denial, and did not check out books such as Deborah Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust that present deniers and their theories in an academic context. When you see discrimination or lies, remove them, and never accept them as a new normal. Take down hurtful words. Reject racist comments. Actively speak out.
- Reflect and admit sorrow. Immediately after the anti-Semitic posters were hung up last week, I received a text asking if I was okay. I said, “Of course, I am not a victim.” No one beat me up or called me any names. But sometimes it is important to acknowledge when we are victims. I am from Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and live a mile away from Sandy Hook Elementary School. After the shooting in 2012, I did not know how to react. I was not shot. Neither were any of my family members. It felt wrong to be sad when I knew I was not hurt as much as other community members. But, accepting that I too was damaged, even if differently, is the first step to determining action. There is no shame in being sad, as long as it leads to resilience.
- Stand up for Cornell. This column is not just about anti-Semitism on campus. We must act as one unified force for Cornell and stand up for prejudices of groups that are not our own. Attend discussions around campus (there is a discussion on Prof. Snyder’s On Tyranny today at 4:30 p.m. that I strongly encourage everyone to attend). Talk about what happened a week, six months, and 70 years ago. Do not forget. Learn from history. Every small action we take individually matters and helps to disarm hate. Never again.
Becky Frank is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is a Sun Arts staff writer, and can be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.