By Kaitlyn McCormick
Students from professor Richard Zdan’s Social Movements class hosted a “Change My Mind…” event on Nov. 9, in the Student Recreation Center as an extension to the counter protest staged in response to a critical race theory (CRT) event held by Rider’s chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) in October.
On Oct. 20, TPUSA held an anti-CRT event, which they referred to as “Critical Hate Theory,” with guest speaker Anthony Watson, a TPUSA ambassador and Olympic skeleton racer. Students criticized the event for lacking healthy and productive discourse.
Junior political science major Katy Timari, a student involved with organizing “Change My Mind…” said, “Our main point is to make sure we are holding this event in a civilized manner and have educated people to help continue conversation and answer questions.”
The Social Movements students’ event had around two dozen attendees and featured four Rider faculty members with expertise in various fields to promote positive and healthy dialogue about various topics. Experts included foriegn languages professor Cynthia Martinez, sociology and criminology professor Sarah Trocchio, legal studies and sports management professor Charles Ray and political science professor Micah Rasmussen, who is also director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
In continuation of the event’s name, “Change My Mind …” faculty sat at tables with coordinating signs for the respective topics they were discussing: “… Performative Allies are the Problem,” “… Reverse Racism Isn’t Real,” “We Need Diversity and Inclusion” and, in the spirit of the event, “… Civil Discourse Isn’t Dead.”
What began as an in-class, student-led discussion following various events held by Rider’s chapter of TPUSA evolved into an applied midterm for Zdan’s sociology class that allowed students to apply what they learned in the classroom to a real-world setting.
Rasmussen, who tabled the topic “… Civil Discourse Isn’t Dead,” explained his view on the type of discussion this event was promoting.
Rasmussen said,“What intrigued me about it was … so much of civility is just learning to listen to each other and not talk over each other and to hear each other.”
“If you can practice that a little bit sitting around the table, we can be better listeners, and if we around this room can be 30 better listeners, then we have improved the civility of Rider University,” Rassmussen said.
Senior economics major Quamel Parris said, “Just hearing how others think – their background and things like that – all of that matters when it comes to understanding somebody. … It just makes the conversation that much easier to be had.”
Zdan described this event as a “teachable moment.”
“They did it using my class as a framework. … A social movements class cannot be purely academic. … Activism is fundamentally about walking like you talk it,” Zdan said.
Following the CRT event, a change.org petition was created anonymously by a Rider student that called for Rider’s TPUSA chapter to be banned. The petition has 66 signatures as of Nov. 15. Rider’s chapter of TPUSA released a statement via Instagram on Oct. 25 following the original counter-protest to their CRT event last month.
“The petition calling for our organization to be banned is based on mischaracterizations about our club and Turning Point as a national organization. We stand by both our event on Critical Race Theory and our speaker Anthony Watson. … We value diverse perspectives and are always happy to engage with those who disagree with our positions,” the statement read.
Rider’s chapter of TPUSA did not respond to requests for comment regarding the Nov. 9 event.