Transformation, Not Redemption – Westmoreland Reads Introduces Eli Saslow
by: Eva Webber
Westmoreland Reads is paving the way for a community wide tradition of reading, critical thinking, and deliberation. On Thursday, Oct. 13, the program welcomed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Eli Saslow to discuss his book “Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist” at Pitt Greensburg, providing deeper insight into his journalistic process and a Q&A for students, faculty, and staff alike.
Saslow’s visit to the school occurred at noon in Ferguson Theater, where Pitt Greensburg’s own Dr. Sheila Confer introduced him with a quote from his interview with The Insider:
“We inherit many great things as Americans, but also a legacy of racism on which the country was built. Historically American government has worked to empower white men, and white supremacist rhetoric is everywhere. Westmoreland County is no different.”
Westmoreland County would receive Saslow warmly at his events with high turnout and enthusiastic engagement. But as his coverage of Derek Black emphasizes, any room full of students may hold countless differing viewpoints.
Saslow sat with several students who spoke about their personal encounters with white nationalism, some closer than others. One student related themself to Derek Black, explaining that being exposed to peers of varying backgrounds and perspectives brought them to reject their white nationalist beliefs. Like Derek, this student’s former beliefs do not exist inside a vacuum, void of any effect on the present.
“When this book first came out, the publisher talked about it as a redemption story… But I don’t think that’s true. It’s a transformation story,” Saslow said. “The damage in this country has been massive. People of color and Jews have been disempowered systemically in ways that we can’t redeem. But we can do better.”
At 6 p.m. Thursday night, Saslow offered a similar (albeit longer) Q&A session at the Westmoreland Museum for American art, and was greeted by guests from across Pennsylvania. In addition to food and refreshment, the event featured a more audience-forward formatting and extra time for book signing.
Students and community members may look to Westmoreland Reads to provide future up-close and personal discussions, and information regarding readings, discussions, and hostings can be found by following this link. For those unable to attend Saslow’s events, his livestream recording is available for viewing here.
That day, Saslow left his student audience on a sentimental yet optimistic note:
“The biggest gift to me for reporting (on) this book was that I learned there are at least some things I can do… I hope you will join me in your own small ways.”
Photos from the event at the Westmoreland Museum for American Art are below.
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