Events and discussions “unpack” old patterns and ways of thinking to plant the seeds for societal change.

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In a political climate that has emboldened some individuals to act out against those of a different race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, each day seems to bring news of discriminatory harassment. Within the Puget Sound region, there have been reports of verbal and physical attacks on individuals and the defacing of buildings and religious sites. A transgender woman in Seattle, a Sikh man in Kent and the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island have all been targets of recent attacks.

This month the Seattle Office for Civil Rights introduced a hotline for reporting discriminatory harassment. In a press release, SOCR Director Patricia Lally says, “…(W)e want to join with the community to develop actions that we can take to protect and support people over the long term. As a community, we need to take care of one another as much as we can.”

Seattle Police Department records showed spikes in bias crimes in November and January over those same months last year, according to Detective Elizabeth Wareing, SPD bias crimes coordinator. Wareing cautioned that the higher numbers could be attributable, at least in part, to increased outreach and reporting but says the department is reaching out to targeted populations.

“At SPD, we are watching the numbers of bias incidents closely, while keeping in close contact with the community,” Wareing says. “We want to make sure that at-risk communities, which may have anxiety about being in contact with law enforcement, such as immigrant and refugee communities, are touched by our outreach efforts.”

On college campuses like Seattle University, where more than half of students are racial or ethnic minorities and there is an active LGBTQ community, campus leaders are taking extra steps to support students who may feel or experience a heightened sense of unease or who are the subjects of discriminatory acts or behavior.

“The divisiveness across our nation is palpable,” says Natasha Martin, JD, Seattle U’s chief diversity officer and associate vice president for institutional inclusion. “Like universities across the country, we are working to understand and respond in the midst of an unpredictable and rapidly changing situation.”

Seattle University has been hosting cross-campus events aimed at fostering dialogue and solidarity among people from different backgrounds. These have centered on hate speech and bias in the current climate; democracy, justice and immigration; and interfaith prayer gatherings. Student groups, staff and faculty have all been involved in collaboration with the university’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, International Student Center, Campus Ministry and the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture.

“The goal was to help people see themselves responding from a place of hopefulness and not continually feeling like they are situated in a deficit,” says OMA Director Czarina Ramsay.

As Ramsay sees it, such discussions “unpack” old patterns and ways of thinking to plant the seeds for societal change. “We want to help reassure those from a minoritized background that they are worthy and that they can remain resilient to obstacles that might set them back,” Ramsay says. “And then for those in the majority to recognize that that is a privilege, and it is your responsibility to mitigate situations to the best of your ability.”

Ultimately, Seattle University seeks to create what Chief Diversity Officer Martin calls “a climate of care.” Still, she acknowledges, “despite our values and good intentions, reality shows up anyway. This is complex work on any given day but particularly in the current environment.”

Seattle University is celebrating 125 years of Jesuit education in the heart of Seattle and empowering leaders to shape a changing world for the greatest good.