On Monday, Conservative cultural and political commentator Candace Owens spoke at the Douglass Student Center as part of a Turning Point USA event.
Turning Point USA is a non-profit Conservative organization founded by Charlie Kirk. Each semester, the organization hosts the Live Free Tour, a speaker circuit across various college campuses all over the country.
"Turning Point USA is empowering college students across America to combat Left-wing indoctrination and defend Conservative values in the classroom, on the court or field and online by launching a continuation of the Live Free Tour in the spring 2023 semester," read a press release from the organization.
This spring, Rutgers became the fifth stop on the tour with Owens visiting the New Brunswick campus for a speaking engagement and Q&A session.
Several hours prior to the event, numerous individuals gathered outside the student center to protest the event and Owens' presence on campus.
Some protestors held signs saying, "Trans Lives Matter" and "Death to Fascism." The groups also chanted, "Nazi scum off our streets," and "Say it loud, say it clear, nazis are not welcome here."
There have been protests at other stops along the tour, including non-violent demonstrations at the University of California—Santa Barbra and the University of Illinois—Chicago as well as a protest that resulted in violence at the University of California—Davis.
"Oddly, I feel tremendous pity for my protesters. They just look so pathetic and altogether incapable. I feel secondhand embarrassment for them," Owens tweeted in response to a video of protestors outside the Rutgers event.
John Janho, a Somerset resident, said he attended the event to hear Owens speak. In response to the event's protesters, he said it is their First Amendment right to voice their views.
"They have a right. It's America," he said. "I'm pretty sure I disagree with them philosophically, but they have a right to their opinion."
At the event, Jobob Taeleifi, Turning Point USA contributor and Conservative comedian, gave opening remarks, and Owens began her speech and Q&A segment afterward.
Throughout the event, Owens spoke about various topics, including gender identity, feminism, indoctrination, the decline in critical thinking skills and the correlation between oppression and the destruction of family ideals.
With specific regard to higher education, Owens said there was a decline in critical thinking skills among college populations following the creation of the U.S. Department of Education, stemming from a sense of superiority that she claims individuals who earn collegiate degrees develop more significantly than those who do not.
She specifically referenced individuals who graduate with degrees in gender studies as those who have fewer future employment and academic opportunities.
"'What happens to the butthurt academics?' is a very important question, and you should ask yourself this all the time," she said. "What happens to a butthurt academic? Well, they are people that go out and wear masks, and they protest."
She also compared this current decline in critical thinking to historical efforts aimed at keeping enslaved Black people from obtaining an education to oppress them. Even today, the Left teaches Black individuals to believe they are not as intelligent as their white counterparts, she said.
Owens said the education system also serves as a conduit for the government to push students into agreeing with certain beliefs and ideologies.
"This is what we're seeing now," she said. "'Your parents are wrong and backward.' 'Your parents don't know anything.' 'We're not going to tell them that you're changing your gender, (that's) between you and I."
Owens said that the commonality between the topics she discussed at the event is their impact on family ideals, specifically in that the government seeks to replace the positions held by parents in families.
Owens then transitioned into the open mic section and answered questions from attendees on various topics. She received questions from Rutgers students, Turning Point USA volunteers and members of the public.
Topics ranged from welfare programs to social issues like gender identity to government policy like how the U.S. is handling the war in Ukraine.
Owens also answered questions related to current events like Dominion Voting System suing Fox News' coverage of the 2020 presidential election.
Noble Avellino, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said while he disagrees with her political views, he attended the event to ask Owens questions.
He said he wanted to ask her about Turning Point USA's role in shrinking government power as well as the suppression of abortion rights and transgender people's rights.
Similarly, Isabella Reich, a sophomore in Mason Gross School of the Arts, said she attended the event to listen to Conservative dialogue.
She said she does not see much communication between political ideologies and hopes to better construct her opinion on the topics discussed.
Reich said that while events like Turning Point USA's event can either increase or decrease conversation between both sides of the political spectrum, they certainly increase tensions.
"The most important thing is that people are talking about politics and that people are focused on creating change, whether that be on the Right or on the Left," she said. "The more discourse that we have about it, the more people get informed, and I think that's more important than anything."