Rutgers student government to look at line between First Amendment and hate speech

Credits: Twitter

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Amidst a slew of bias and hate speech incidents in the past week, the Rutgers student government will be holding a town hall to better understand the difference between free speech and hate speech.

The town hall, hosted by the Rutgers University Student Assembly, is aimed at taking a closer look at where the line rests, as well as the implications that the First Amendment has on college campuses.

Rutgers is still reeling from three separate hate speech and bias incidents the week before Halloween, one where white supremacist flyers were posted around campus, and two others regarding anti-Semitic material.

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“That’s why this conversation is so important to us right now,” said Sabeen Rokerya, the assembly’s student affairs chair. “Those incidents need to be discussed and addressed.”

RUSA had been planning the town hall for some time, according to Rokerya, though the upcoming date this week was ultimately the time that worked best. The event is slated for Thursday, November 2, 7:30 p.m. at the Student Activities Center, 613 George Street.

“We want to make sure that we’re defining those lines, for students,” Rokerya said. “The definitions of what they can and cannot do.”

Three panelists will be present, Vice Chancellor for Students Affairs Dr. Felicia McGinty, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Anne Newman and Dean Ronald Chen, a professor at Rutgers Law School.

Those three panelists will be asked a series of guided questions for the first half of the event, according to Rokerya, after which the floor will be opened to questions from students.

“Rutgers’ position on free speech is clear: All of the members of our community, including faculty and staff, are free to express their viewpoints in public forums as private citizens,” wrote university spokesperson Neal Buccino, in response to last week's incidents. "Yet at Rutgers University we must also foster an environment free from discrimination, as articulated in our policy prohibiting discrimination.”

On Tuesday, October 24, recruitment posters for the white supremacist group Identity Evropa were posted around campus. One poster read “Our Generation, Our Future, Our Last Chance” and depicted three white men at a rally, while another read “Action, Leadership, Identity.”

A flyer which read “Black lives don’t matter,” and contained other racially charged statements was found on a Rutgers campus bus that same day, though according to The Daily Targum, it is unknown if those two incidents are related.

Then two days later, Michael Chikindas, a microbiology professor at the Rutgers food science department, was found to have allegedly shared dozens of racist and anti-Semitic posts on his Facebook profile.

Thousands of students reacted by signing a petition calling for his removal. University officials have said that they’ll be investigating Chikindas’ actions and potential violations, and haven’t ruled out suspending the professor.

Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Deba Dutta said that the university was certainly considering suspending Chikindas, pending further investigation.

Days after, on Sunday, October 29, Rutgers police responded to Stonier Hall near the Brower Commons dining hall on College Avenue, where a black Nazi swastika was graffitied on the outside of the building.

Dutta has since met with officials from Hillel, one of two prominent Jewish campus centers, according to a statement from Rutgers Hillel, one of two prominent Jewish centers on College Avenue. The chancellor sat down with Executive Director Andrew Getraer and Associate Director Rabbi Esther Reed to discuss the issue of anti-Semitism at Rutgers, the statement adds. 

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