By Tatyanna Carman
Rider’s chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) hosted its first event of the semester, “Hate Speech is a Myth,” featuring guest speaker Hayden Williams on Sept. 23 in the Mercer Room.
Williams was punched at University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) in February while protesting with conservative students about “the hate crime hoax perpetrated by Jussie Smollett,” according to Williams. After the incident, he gained national recognition and was featured on FOX News and met President Donald Trump.
“The purpose of this event is to have a discussion with Hayden Williams about college culture, his assault [at] UC Berkeley and the topic of hate speech and how it is protected by the first amendment. While we do not encourage hate from either side of the political aisle, we do believe that free speech is a bedrock principle our country was founded on and must not be tampered with. After the event, we hope the Rider community can continue to support everyone’s free speech rights,” said President of TPUSA Joshua Aminov.
Aminov declined to answer eight questions asked regarding the event.
However, some students had critiques of the event and the university’s reaction, or lack thereof, to it. Graduate student Steven Gravlin shared his thoughts on the event.
“My roommate was the one to bring the event to my attention, earlier before I wound up seeing it on the big screen in front of the Bart Luedeke Center. We were just confused because we were like, ‘how?’ The last event went so poorly and then the first two weeks of school in September, we have another one, which is almost the same thing,” Gravlin said. “We’re just confused as to how they’re allowed to kind of walk all over Rider. The way that they’re promoting these events, again, isn’t healthy for a two-way discussion, it’s more of ‘hey, this is what we think. We’re going to spit it out there.’ And then Rider is promoting their event and it looks like Rider is also endorsing those ideas. And that’s a big problem I have with it.”
Gravlin sent an email to members of the Rider administration, including President Gregory Dell’Omo and Provost DonnaJean Fredeen, voicing his concerns about the event.
The event started with a video of Trump speaking at the American Conservative Union conference where he talked about the assault of Williams. Trump brought Williams up to say a few words and shared his executive order about free speech.
After he shared a few details about himself, the video of a man punching Williams at UC Berkeley was shown. Williams said that the man was arrested and was not a student there at the time. He then shared his thoughts on the executive order enacted by Trump after his assault.
“Colleges and universities are places where young minds of tomorrow are molded and, sadly, they’ve become centers of indoctrination and conformity and if you don’t conform to the leftist dogma that is preached there then you’re ostracized, you’re castigated, you’re punished,” Williams said. “I’ve often heard people say ‘well freedom of speech has consequences.’ What you saw that happened to me was the consequences of free speech and I don’t think we should accept that as normal or acceptable at universities.”
He also shared how he believed that conservative students are put at a disadvantage in the classroom and how he has lost friends, some that he’s known since middle school, for his beliefs, but described the experience as “entirely worth it.”
The last thing Williams discussed was why he thought hate speech is a myth. Williams defined a myth as “a story.” He compared it to myths in ancient Greek civilization.
“That’s what is going on, this narrative, this story being told that hate speech is rising, it’s a huge problem and speech should be regulated because of it because hate speech harms people and on college campuses, students need to be protected,” said Williams. “This is the story being told. Because of this we need to censor some students, what they say, what they do, what they’re allowed to bring on campus and as I said before, many of these examples aren’t befitting of what is hate speech. This is the story and the narrative that’s been told and I think it’s gone too far.”
After the interview, the audience asked Williams questions. He gave advice to conservative students, talked about discrimination against conservatives and his own definition of hate speech, which he described as a “gray area.”
“[Tupac] was accused of hate speech when he was coming out with his albums in the 90s. Some people use the justification that he used the b-word or the n-word and because of that, he’s promoting hate speech. He’s spreading hate. True, but it’s his right and I’m glad we have Tupac Shakur.”
Sophomore criminal justice major Austin Scher thought that the event was beneficial to students.
“I thought it was beneficial. It was good to see a whole broad spectrum of people and their different opinions. It’s good because we’re not only just looking at it one way, we want to see how everybody feels,” Scher said. “And it’s a hot-button topic. So, I’m glad to be a part of it.”