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What Karen Aroesty Learned In 26 Years With The Anti-Defamation League

Karen Aroesty retired as regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Heartland on May 31.
Shana Watkins
Karen Aroesty is the outgoing regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. She leaves the organization after 26 years of service.

In the 26 years Karen Aroesty has been with the Anti-Defamation League, hate has been a constant adversary.

“We are human; we always have bias and prejudice,” she said. “We've seen the rhythm of hate and bias and prejudice be a constant for decades and decades — and it's going to continue to be.”

Even so, Aroesty, who left her job as regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Heartland on May 31, has hope. She credits younger generations and their willingness to address tough social issues.

“I think they're willing to step out of their discomfort a bit more now than people were willing to do a few decades ago,” Aroesty said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air. “I think there's more awareness because there are more news sources, there are more platforms for people to tell their unusual stories that people aren't even paying attention to. I think we're much more effective now at recognizing where we need to be paying attention.”

Aroesty said she is most proud of her work toward establishing a Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission and getting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by the Missouri legislature (she called the act a double-edged sword but beneficial in terms of allowing people not to be burdened by government infringement of religious observance).

She also cited the ADL’s work in the case Fleshner v. Pepose.

“It was decided in 2010, where the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously decided that if allegations of juror bias and prejudice come out after a trial is over, a judge now has a right to revisit those jurors [and] look at how the bias and prejudice might have directly influenced whether or not a party, and a trial, got a fair hearing,” she said. “And that didn't exist before that case.”

Those flashpoints, and many more in her long career, taught Aroesty that during a crisis, the most important thing people can do is ask questions.

“People need to be more brave to educate themselves, so as not to be so fearful of others,” she said. “If we just stepped out of our own spaces of comfort and we spent a little more time learning about others, that bias would minimize, [and] that fear would go away.”

Aroesty said that she’s currently looking at a variety of options for her next step and that she hopes to remain in St. Louis. No matter what, she said, her work to shore up civil rights will continue.

“I can't literally remove myself from that piece of it,” she said. “But there are a lot of different platforms and allies in this town to work with.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.