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Class prepares university business students to identify and challenge hate in future their future work places

By Mary Stamp

Given stories of fraud, greed and ruthlessness in the business world, Molly Pepper realizes it’s easy to lose hope, but she believes the 24 students in Gonzaga University’s “Hate Studies in Business” class this spring will make a difference when they become employers and employees.

Molly Pepper
Molly Pepper

Molly, associate professor of management, said the class is an outgrowth of a spring 2009 multidisciplinary hate studies class on “Why People Hate,” related to Gonzaga’s Institute for Action Against Hate.

Joining her, six professors, an adjunct faculty member and a graduate student bring perspectives from accounting, human resources, business administration, information systems, marketing, business ethics and economics.

Her field, management of human resources, draws on psychology and sociology, said Molly, who studied journalism at Texas A & M and worked 10 years for newspapers in Florida, Mississippi and Washington.   She earned a master’s in business administration in 1997 at the University of Southern Mississippi and a doctoral degree in 2004 at Arizona State.

Molly, who attends both Manito Presbyterian and the Spokane Buddhist Temple, appreciates the simplicity of her husband’s Buddhist tradition, calling people to think pure and beautiful thoughts, speak pure and beautiful words and do pure and beautiful deeds.

She came to Gonzaga to teach at a university where she could connect students with values.

“It takes courage for our faculty to look at ways hate is manifest in business,” she said.

Students will discuss the impact of socio-economic status, biracial employees, cross-race relationships, minorities, homosexuality and integrating challenged workers in the workplace.

They will also look at how financial fraud, betrayal, profit maximization, individualism, greed and financial market rules influence relationships.

In addition, they will consider how marketing may perpetuate stereotypes, target vulnerable consumer groups and encourage overconsumption.

Hate in the work place can stem from gender bias.  Molly said businesses—through systems or bad bosses—may belittle women.  Even women owners may follow the flawed business model of dominance and power.

For example, she said personnel policies can be inflexible and inconsistent about expectations for parents’ relationships with their children.  Women may be expected to downplay family ties, while men may be encouraged to display photos of their children.

“If a man leaves early for a child’s soccer game, he’s a good father.  If a woman does it, she’s a slacker.  Women who work late are seen as bad mothers, while men doing that are good providers,” she said.  “Those stereotypes harm both men and women.”

Rather than seeing family leave as an investment in an employee—mother or father—and community wellbeing, Molly said employers often question the benefit.

Sometimes family leave for childbirth leads to bullying among women:  “I only took off a week,” one may say, implying another is a wimp.  “Women can be hard on each other,” she said of violence in organizations that set up women to compete.

Molly said there are healthy organizations that respect and honor their employees.  With the economic downturn, some chose to reduce everyone’s salaries, rather than firing people.

GU hate studies class
Nancy Chase, Brian Steverson and Molly Pepper
discuss plans before a recent class.

Two of the other faculty members teaching “Hate Studies in Business” are Brian Steverson and Nancy Chase.

Brian, associate professor of philosophy, studied at Tulane and Xaviar universities in New Orleans, earning a PhD in 1991 before coming to Gonzaga in 1992.  In 2008, he became the John Aram chair of business ethics.

Hate can surface in class divisions between owners and workers, he said.

In February, Brian told the class about the 1914 Ludlow Massacre at a Colorado mine when owners tried to break up employees’e efforts to unionize.

“There was much violence related to attempts to unionize in the 19th and 20th century,” he said.  “Economic divisions among owners, management and workers fostered hate.  Management and owners resorted to violence to preserve the class divisions.”

“At the heart of the struggle between the powerful and powerless,” he said, “is a tendency to hate those who stand in the way of one’s political or economic self-interest.  Returning hatred for hatred is easy.”

Nancy also finds a strong connection of faith and business at Gonzaga, with its emphasis on respect for human dignity.

“Many ugly things happen in the business world,” said Nancy, who grew up Catholic in Missoula, studied music at Gonzaga and completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in organ at Indiana University in Bloomington. 

Finding it hard to earn a living playing organ at a Richmond, Va., church, she began working at a bank to implement a new budgeting system.  Enjoying data systems, she earned a post-graduate data-processing certificate at Virginia Commonwealth University.  She returned to Spokane in 1980 to work in programming and play organ at Catholic churches.

“I had to work hard as a woman in a male-dominated field,” she said.  “I saw how people treat people in dog-eat-dog office politics.”

Overwork and competition can also foster hate.

Nancy also considers the faculty courageous to talk about hate, because “it’s not normal” to discuss it.  From texts and class, students learn to honor people, but find something else in the workplace, where many employers expect employees to overwork.  She advises entry-level workers to set boundaries.

“Information technology can contribute to hate, magnifying it through cyber-terrorism; anti-social, hateful put-downs in social networking, and people without resources unable to cross the digital divide,” she said.

Nancy pointed out that businesses often talk of roles, not of people with skills, so employees feel violated, not validated.

Outsourcing may seem to be a good short-term business solution, but does not build loyalty or expertise, said Nancy, who believes the business world needs creative, young idealistic employees.

She tells students not to let their frustration with systems that don’t honor them make them cynical:  “Your energy and fearlessness are needed so you can have impact one person at a time,” she says.

For information, call 313-3432.