An open letter created by a Rutgers student for the Rutgers University Student Assembly Allocations Board to defund the University chapters of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and Turning Point USA (TPUSA) following an anti-mask rally held by them last Thursday has gained more than 600 student signatures as of yesterday.
The rally, which was met with counterprotesters, had Ian A. Smith, co-owner of Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, and Sara Razi, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and YAL New Jersey state chair, speak against the mask mandate at Rutgers and call for medical freedom. The letter cites concerns regarding Smith's presence at the rally and his interaction with students, as well as the organizers' response to these concerns.
Students realized early on that Smith pled guilty for the death of Atlantic Cape Community College student Kevin Aaron Ade after drinking and driving in 2007. Tensions rose further when the speakers compared coronavirus disease (COVID-19) protocols to events leading up to the Holocaust, according to the letter.
Paulo Almiron, creator of the letter and a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said that a Jewish student confronted Smith and Razi after they said vaccine cards resemble gold stars and other labels people have had to wear in the past. He said Smith reportedly replied, “Why is it always about you people? I said ‘gold star,’ what does that have to do with the Holocaust?”
Almiron said the ambiguous wording of "you people" is dangerous and possibly antisemitic in that it is a common phrase in hate speech against minority groups.
“Razi apologized several times for the comparisons to the Holocaust during my talk with her,” he said. “Then, she promised to post an apology on social media. I was satisfied with this, so I left and waited to see a post from either YAL or Sara. It wasn’t until the day after, without any statements by Razi or YAL (while TPUSA celebrated Ian Smith’s participation), when I planned to take action.”
He said his letter gained 300 signatures from students in less than 24 hours, and his Instagram post on the letter has received more than 2,500 likes as of yesterday.
The letter calls for the Assembly Allocations Board to cease funding for the YAL and TPUSA chapters indefinitely, as these funds belong to the student body at large. The Assembly gave approximately $7,063 in funding to YAL and TPUSA combined during the previous school year, according to the letter.
“Many of us would probably demand these organizations to be shut down instead,” the letter states. “We want this indefinite defunding to be considered a stern warning not because of their agenda, but their moral incompetence.”
While the Assembly does not directly decide on funds for organizations, Almiron said students have most commonly discussed having the Assembly bring up the incident to the University as a way of addressing the issue.
RU Progressive also released a statement via Instagram on Tuesday addressing the situation and calling on the Assembly to take action.
The organization said that due to the recent behavior exhibited by the Rutgers chapters of YAL and TPUSA, as well as their lack of taking responsibility for these actions, both organizations are no longer welcome to future events hosted by RU Progressive.
“Above all else, RU Progressive has always (sought) to promote student political involvement on campus. (Toward) that end, we have cohosted events such as a nonpartisan debate watch party with, among other organizations, Rutgers YAL,” RU Progressive said in the statement. “The actions of the Rutgers chapters of YAL and TPUSA go beyond simple political differences. Their actions were unacceptable, and have contributed (toward) making students on campus feel unsafe.”
RU Progressive went on to demand accountability from the organizations and called on the Assembly to take action to ensure that this happens. While RU Progressive said it recognizes that the Assembly does not have complete authority over student conduct, they believe that the Assembly must advocate for the University to investigate the recent events and take appropriate action.
In addition, RU Progressive said the recent events are representative of a larger pattern of hateful rhetoric going around the country and on campus, and they further called on the Assembly and the University to take action toward combating hate.
“We as students have an obligation to stand together against hate and for the security of our student population,” RU Progressive said in the statement. “In this regard, RU Progressive asks that students reach out to their (Assembly) representatives … Let us unite together, and fight for change.”
Though the Assembly has not yet released a statement on the matter, Almiron said he has spoken with several Assembly members about defunding the Rutgers YAL and TPUSA chapters and that the issue will likely be brought up to the University administration as a student conduct case.
“The letter does not criticize their political agenda, only what students saw at the rally,” he said. “They are free to spread hate speech, but not with our student fees.”