Remarks at a Conversation with the San Diego Anti-Defamation League

May 2, 2017

Thank you for joining us this afternoon as we take time out at the end of the academic year to engage in an important dialog that is not happening enough across our country. Today, we gather to reflect upon the upsurge in acts of intolerance, hate crimes and other attacks on basic human dignity.

We are very fortunate to have with us today our friends from the San Diego Anti-Defamation League, including ADL Regional Director Tammy Gillies; Regional Board Chair Elaine Feuer-Barton; Associate Director and Director of Latino Affairs Monica Bauer; and Associate Director Jenna Corbin. It is good to have all of you here today – welcome.

When Chicago attorney Sigmund Livingston founded ADL in 1913, he envisioned an America where those who seemed different were not targets of discrimination and threats, but were equals, worthy of shared opportunity and a place in the American dream. As the nation's premier civil rights and human relations agency, ADL continues to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry that erode democratic ideals.

Our national sense of common community has been fraying for some time now, and the current political climate appears to be accelerating this trend. Many institutions of higher education across the country are experiencing acts of intolerance and hate crimes on their campuses. While my first two academic years at USD have been marked by what I have referred to as “audacious hospitality,” even our own campus is not immune to this disturbing trend. We have experienced intolerance, and even hateful acts that shook the very fabric of our campus.

Yet, this presented an opportunity for USD and other universities to reflect on our basic values and to interrupt hate and intolerance by taking a leadership role in rebuilding national pride in community, fostering respectful dialogue and recognizing the dignity of each and every person as created in the image and likeness of God. As a contemporary Catholic university committed to addressing humanity’s urgent challenges, we have decided to recommit ourselves to the important role this institution should play in having difficult dialogs and conversations on our campus.

Fortunately, we are guided by our Catholic Intellectual tradition passed down through the centuries, and we are also fortunate to have a contemporary role model in Pope Francis who reminds all of us of what roles we should be playing in society.

Just last week at the TED 2017 Conference in Canada, a TED-Talk video of Pope Francis was shown, and his message is relevant to our discussion today. He said,

Life flows through our relations with others. Life is about interactions, and we all need each other. We can only build the future by standing together—by including everyone.

He said that solidarity is a term that many wish to erase from the dictionary. Yet, solidarity is not something that can be programmed or controlled. It is a free response born from the heart of each and every person. When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can one withhold their urge to do good to another human being?

Let us help each other, he said, to remember that the ‘other’ is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face….and is a person to take care of. Through the darkness of today’s conflict, each and every one of us can become a bright candle—a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around. A tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you.”

What a beautiful expression of human dignity and a call for action! The ADL has always been a bright candle for our society, and today’s event is yet another opportunity for us to get out of our comfort zones, engage in difficult but, valuable dialogs, and to walk in the shoes of others as we recognize the value in every person. Let’s do our part to help our communities and our nation restore its dignity to Sigmund Livingston’s vision and Pope Francis’ contemporary call to create a culture of solidarity and a nation of equals.

James THarris III, DEd