Last week, an open letter addressed to University administrators began circulating online, citing allegations of Hinduphobia against Audrey Truschke, an associate professor of South Asian history at Rutgers—Newark. The letter states it is written by Hindu students and allies from Rutgers—Newark and Rutgers—New Brunswick but did not include specific names.
The open letter accused Truschke of bigoted statements on social media and in her writing as well as offensive, skewed portrayals of Hindu society in her course materials. It stated she has presented an “exotic-erotic-chauvinist-oppressive India,” and in doing so, has created an unsafe and unwelcoming environment for Hindu students at Rutgers.
The letter is tied to a petition calling for the University to take action and publicly condemn Truschke. The writers’ requests include no longer allowing Truschke to teach courses that involve Hinduism and India, giving the students a platform to bring in faculty who challenge Truschke’s teachings and ensuring that Rutgers takes steps to protect Hindu students going forward.
Hindu on Campus, an account dedicated to students within the Hindu diaspora and which began circulating the petition, said that as of Tuesday, more than 6,400 individuals have signed the petition, according to a tweet.
Truschke said the petition falsely and offensively conflates Hindu nationalism, a political ideology she is critical of, with Hinduism as a religion. She said many statements of hers have been taken out of context for the letter, while others stem from political agendas or assumptions, such as the idea that professors endorse whatever ideas they teach.
“Hinduism is an incredibly broad-based religion with great internal diversity,” Truschke said. “As a professor who works, in part, on the history of religions, I teach and appreciate that diversity. It saddens me when others see that same breadth as a liability that they are willing to disown in pursuit of narrow political goals.”
Similar petitions accusing Truschke of being anti-Hindu were filed in October 2019 due to remarks she made regarding Hindutva, a form of Hindu nationalism in India, The Daily Targum previously reported. One petition garnered more than 16,400 signatures, and the other received more than 21,200 signatures.
The current situation gained mass attention on Friday after Hindu on Campus created an Instagram post explaining the accusations and calling for action. As of yesterday, the post has received more than 7,800 likes and 640 comments.
Truschke said her role is to teach students about a variety of viewpoints and perspectives in history and said students have been receptive to her scholarship.
"I have taught hundreds of students who identify as Hindu at five universities over the past 15 years. So far as I know, I have not had a single complaint," she said.
The Rutgers Hindu Youth for Unity, Virtues and Action (YUVA) said it is in support of the letter.
“Truschke’s generalizing statements on Hindu practices and misinterpretations of Hindu gods have deeply disturbed and alienated Hindu students at Rutgers,” Rutgers Hindu YUVA said in a statement. “We feel threatened and scared to openly practice our culture and traditions (due to) the atmosphere that has been created by her narrative.”
Though, other students have expressed disagreement with the allegations and concerns regarding Truschke. Deven Singh, a School of Arts and Sciences junior who identifies as Hindu, said he does not support the petition and does not find the accusations of racism and prejudice to be credible after reading through all the materials.
“You might disagree with how she portrays history or interprets religious bodies of work, but at the end of the day, that is your politics and has nothing to do with creating a safe, inclusive environment on campus for Hindu students,” he said.
Faculty have expressed support for Truschke, with the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers and the South Asian Studies Program issuing statements defending her scholarship and condemning threats issued to her on social media. Truschke said these threats have made her concerned for her safety.
Rutgers Hindu YUVA said that while they respect academic freedom, they believe it should not be enforced at the expense of a community and hope for the Rutgers administration to take steps toward creating a more inclusive atmosphere.
Several University administrators issued a statement on Monday supporting Truschke’s academic freedom and the members of the Hindu community at Rutgers.
“Scholarship is sometimes controversial, perhaps especially when it is at the interface of history and religion, but the freedom to pursue such scholarship, as Professor Truschke does rigorously, is at the heart of the academic enterprise,” the administrators said. “Just as strongly, Rutgers emphatically affirms its support for all members of the Hindu community to study and live in an environment in which they not only feel safe but also fully supported in their religious identity.”
The administrators who authored the statement, Senior Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Anna Branch, Rutgers—Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers—Newark Jacqueline Mattis, are planning to meet with Rutgers Hindu YUVA to discuss the concerns of the Hindu community, said University spokesperson Dory Devlin.