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Hate speech symposium at Rutgers met with student protestors

The symposium took place outside of the Rutgers Business School where a small group of students protested the event as its speakers connect to the United States Intelligence Community. RUTGERS.EDU – Photo by

Inside the Rutgers Business School on Tuesday, a day-long symposium addressed hate speech while preserving free speech on campus. Outside, groups held a press conference in protest of a speaker’s connection to the United States Intelligence Community.

“Fighting Hate While Preserving Freedom: A Best Practices Forum” discussed just that and brought in a variety of speakers who covered acts of hate, with a focus on religious and ethnic intolerance. 

" ... And we’ve chosen that topic today for a number of reasons,” said University President Robert L. Barchi to the audience at the event. “I think we’ve witnessed in the last 12 to 18 months a rise of public expression of hate and intolerance in this country, that really peaks at a level that I’ve seen only several times in the 50 or so years that I’ve been in higher education.”

The speeches can still be listened to via a recorded livestream from Rutgers iTV Studio.

Barchi continued and said the University must be proactive, not just reactive, in addressing acts of hate. He said to address this, the community has to speak out when it hears things like anti-Semitic comments, or sees other forms of hate on campus.

“The best tonic is to treat speech with speech and take on challenging conversations, like we’re doing today, with conversations about our differences,” Barchi said. “And the winner of those battles is not the ones who shout the loudest, it’s not about shouting somebody down and preventing them from having a conversation. It’s about standing up for civility and tolerance and making our point of view absolutely clear. (sic)”

Outside of the Rutgers Business School, a press conference took place with members from NJ Anti War Agenda and Rutgers Against Campus Militarism. The organization posted a video of the protest on Youtube.

Bob Witanek, a member of NJ Anti War Agenda, said the group was not protesting the event happening or free speech, but rather the connections that some of the speakers have to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and connections Rutgers has through a grant from the agency.

In 2015, Rutgers received a $1.95 million grant from the DIA in support of becoming Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence (IC CAE), according to The Daily Targum.

“To connect the issue of fighting hate while supporting freedom, they’re linking the two, they mentioned the First Amendment,” Witanek said. “So our concern is if they’re discussing First Amendment rights of students, the national security state should not be at the table, and it is today.”

The speakers consisted of professors, administrators and more, including members of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to the program’s agenda. The opening keynote speech was given by Jeh Johnson, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security under former President Barack Obama. His talk discussed “combatting hate in today's homeland.”                            

Henessa Gumiran, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and lead student organizer of Rutgers Against Campus Militarism, said the reason they were out Tuesday was to "raise awareness of the crimes of the intelligence community both globally and domestically in suppressing activist movements for civil rights and human rights …"

She continued and said having an intelligence presence on campus could mask student activism.

“So we do respect the speakers that are here to talk about fighting hate,” Gumiran said. “We don’t feel like the intelligence community should be establishing what the quote ‘best practices’ are for fighting hate while preserving freedom.”

Dory Devlin, a University spokesperson, said that Rutgers supports all students’ rights to express their views. The speakers at the symposium focused on best practices for combatting bigotry and intolerance in all aspects of the community.

“Yesterday, Rutgers brought together law enforcement officials, religious leaders and leading academic researchers to explore how to combat a resurgence of hate while protecting our First Amendment protection of free speech …,” Devlin said in an email. 

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