Rutgers University

A Fiery Year On the Banks: The Rutgers Conservative Union Finds a Voice

Dylan Marek (top left) and members of what would become the Rutgers Conservative Union table outside Brower Commons on College Avenue. Credits: Dylan Marek

Editor’s note: This story is the first in a five-part series on the Rutgers Conservative Union. Through that lens, TAPinto New Brunswick intends to provide a comprehensive look at an energetic year of on-campus activism at New Jersey’s flagship university. The second part is available here.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Dylan Marek went to bed an anonymous Rutgers University freshman. He woke up on March 1 to strangers calling him a white supremacist. 

As he slept, the Daily Targum, the student newspaper, published an article about the similarities between a Rutgers Conservative Union flier and one for American Vanguard, a white-nationalist organization. Marek, the Conservative Union’s founding vice-president, talked to a reporter the night before. He thought the story would boost the profile of the fledgling on-campus group, and perhaps attract some like-minded members.

Sign Up for E-News

Instead, his phone buzzed with messages from concerned friends. The piece had gone viral. “I woke up to total chaos,” Marek, who sports short hair and a matter-of-fact style of speaking, recalled. 

At first, he was angry. He felt misled by the Targum and misunderstood by his peers. The Conservative Union quickly published a Facebook post disavowing racism and any connection to American Vanguard. But that failed to prevent backlash on campus, widespread media coverage and national attention.  

Rutgers liberals reacted with anger and disgust. After all, American Vanguard fliers appeared weeks before at Latino and Muslim centers on campus, alarming the community and inspiring an outcry against white nationalism. Now, it seemed that a homegrown group had internalized those values.

“If this group represents conservatives,” a Facebook user and Rutgers student named Maaz Khan wrote of the Conservative Union, “then conservatism is utterly bankrupt morally and has no future with any decent people.”

The news story came out amid an arguably historic year for political activism at Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus. 

The election of President Donald Trump nurtured regular protests from students fearful of his rhetoric and immigration policies. But his rise also empowered conservative students, whose views had remained marginalized at Rutgers until that point, to finally feel comfortable taking center stage.

So, soon enough, Marek found humor in the chaos. To him, the visceral response to the flier episode epitomized the reactionary nature of some liberals. His colleagues agreed. Nick Knight, the union’s president, wasn’t surprised when he picked up the newspaper and saw the front-page headline. “They were trying to find something that would make a good hit piece on a brand-new right-wing club at Rutgers,” he recalled thinking. “And they got it.”

Nick Knight (left), president of the Rutgers Conservative Union, participates in a counter-protest in late January.

Was the design of the flier a mistake? “I guess you can call it that,” Marek later said. Conservative Union members said they stumbled across a boilerplate template that, it turned out, had also been adopted by the white-nationalist faction. 

But some of the language was identical. Two examples: “TAKE YOUR COUNTRY BACK!” and “Is this the country your ancestors died for?” Months later, Marek told TAPinto New Brunswick that his Rutgers group had indeed encountered the American Vanguard flier earlier, but members aimed to scrub it and write their own message.

Despite feeling like they wrongly received a reputation as the campus racists, Marek and his club refused to back down. 

“If you’re out there at Rutgers University on College Avenue Campus wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ hats, you’ve got guts. You’re not going into Afghanistan, but you are putting yourself in harm’s way,” he said. “But maybe I will get one person who sees what I’m doing and feels better about expressing what he thinks.”

All of a sudden, activists on the left and right knew of the Rutgers Conservative Union. But the incident wouldn’t be the final time they muttered its name.

The second part of this series will run tonight, June 13.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

New Brunswick

The Jaffe Briefing - March 16, 2018


ON THE RAILS - Another commuting mess this morning, as the antiquated Portal Bridge got stuck in the "up" position at 4:22 a.m.  That caused a bunch of rush hour trains to be cancelled between Newark and Manhattan for four hours or so.  Both NJTransit and Amtrak riders were completely screwed. You may recall the proposed Gateway ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 15, 2018


NEW BRUNSWICK - When you rent out apartments to Rutgers students, expect some surprises. But one landlord received a shocker beyond expectation: a $8,117.07 water bill for the last three months of 2017, TAPInto New Brunswick reports. The landlord went to the City Council meeting this week, pleading that the bill on his Comstock Street ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 14, 2018


TRENTON - Ever since we met Gov. Phil Murphy, he has been talking about the same stuff: higher taxes for the rich, saving NJ Transit, legalizing marijuana, giving more money to public schools and a higher minimum wage. So, when lawmakers went to Trenton yesterday to hear the rookie governor's first budget message, there weren't a lot of ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 13, 2018


TRENTON - As Gov. Phil Murphy prepares to deliver his first budget address at 2 p.m. today, at the State House, observers will be curious if his proposals jive with the state's pension mess. Look for the governor to talk about campaign topics like equal pay, health care, climate change, immigration and offshore drilling, as well as the proposed ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 12, 2018


NEW BRUNSWICK - If you want to succeed in New Jersey, you need to figure out, to some degree, what all these millennials are thinking.  New Jersey Future tried to get to the answer, during a recent day-long event in New Brunswick that NJ Spotlight covered.  Bottom line? Our millennials are fleeing and that is bad. We need them to buy ...

The Jaffe Briefing - March 9, 2018


ON THE RAILS - Not only is President Trump against the Gateway Tunnel, it seems he is ready to shut down the entire federal government if any money is budgeted for the desperately-needed infrastructure project. The word from Washington is that Trump is ready to scorch the Earth if Gateway gets just one sawbuck from Uncle Sam. Of course, this dispels all ...

Rutgers Student on Front Lines of Orangutan Conservation, Research

March 15, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK - Deep in a tropical forest in Borneo 15 years ago, Rutgers student Didik Prasetyo first encountered a young male orangutan that he named “Jerry.”

The great ape was one of several orangutans that Prasetyo and other researchers followed at the Tuanan Orangutan Research Station in the Mawas Conservation Area in Indonesia. Prasetyo was skeptical when colleagues said ...

RU police investigate assault on Douglass campus

NEW BRUNSWICK - Rutgers University police are investigating an aggravated assault and attempted sexual assault  reported to March 14 at 3:55 a.m. in front of Hickman Hall on the Douglass campus.


The victim, not affiliated with Rutgers University, reported that she was walking with a male whom she did not know in the area of Commercial Avenue and George ...

Rutgers voices support for proposed state budget

NEW BRUNSWICK - Rutgers University officials have often been wary of the governor's annual budget message, wondering what type of budget cuts the university may sustain and how it would potentially impact tuition and the overall quality of education.

This budget message, delivered March 13, appears to be a sigh of relief.

Pete McDonough, Vice President of External Affairs at ...

Latino, Caribbean, Hip Hop, Jazz music, even Yoga and skating, celebrated in city

March 15, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK – Music, cultures and lifestyles will be celebrated in the city all year, with festivals and special events scheduled for weekends from April through October, including the city’s first day to highlight yoga.

City council members this week approved permits for nine events, starting with the traditional Rutgers Day Parade on April 28, which will start on Senior Place ...


This National Literacy Month, Let's Rein In Screen Time

March 13, 2018

Dear Editor: As speech-language pathologists across New Jersey prepare to mark “National March into Literacy Month,” let’s address the alarming number of young children who spend countless hours a day on a handheld screen.

According to a study from the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, the more time that children under two years spend on smartphones, tablets and ...

New Jersey Association of Health Underwriters Clinches Gold Certification

March 16, 2018

NEWARK - The National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) is proud to announce that the New Jersey Association of Health Underwriters has once again received Gold Certification – awarded to the strongest chapters in the nation.

NJAHU achieved Gold Certification from national headquarters underscoring how well the organization has operated and achieved its lofty goals in the ...