By Tori Pender and Dylan Manfre
History repeated itself as an event hosted by Rider’s chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) sparked a “counterprotest” on Oct. 20, for its discussion on “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) with conservative Olympian and speaker Anthony Watson.
TPUSA, a powerful right-wing youth group, has been campaigning and stirring outrage on college campuses nationwide — most recently when Emerson College in Boston banned the group this month amid complaints of anti-Chinese activity. Also on Oct. 20, Wichita State University’s student government refused to recognize the group as a campus organization, citing fears of safety and hate speech.
Because of TPUSA’s controversy among campus, a recent change.org petition was created this month asking administrators to step in and shut down TPUSA’s Rider chapter.
“In the Vision for Inclusive Excellence, the university commits to fostering a community that ‘embraces students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds and enables them to achieve success’ … TPUSA does not support any of the goals put forth by either the university’s diversity and inclusion statement nor its Vision for Inclusive Excellence … TPUSA is not supportive of diversity or inclusion. Instead, TPUSA claims to be working to ‘win America’s Culture War,”’ reads the petition that was created anonymously by a Rider student.
The petition had 55 signatures as of Oct. 26 at 9:30 p.m.
Kristine Brown, associate vice president of university communications and marketing said in an email to The Rider News, “Turning Point met all of the logistical guidelines required of student organizations in hosting the event referenced in the petition …. Rider is committed to upholding the principles of freedom of expression and speech. The university will allow speech by individuals or groups on campus to continue to be exercised unless such speech or demonstration threatens the safety of others or the normal operation of the university activities.”
The Rider Student Government Organization (SGA) initially turned down TPUSA’s application for club status in 2017, due to concerns about the national organization’s extreme, right-wing views. In April 2018, SGA approved the application, citing free-speech issues and a willingness to engage in a diversity of viewpoints and campus programming.
SGA President and senior computer science major Elizabeth O’Hara said in an email to The Rider News, “The (SGA) does not approve or deny individual events, that is done through the student event management policy. In saying that, SGA supports having a platform for free expression and speech of students on our campus. An invitation to speak on campus does not mean a university endorsement of the views of the speaker, especially those that are not aligned with Rider’s mission, Statement of Community Values, commitment to Inclusive Excellence or PROMISE.”
TPUSA received a $1,000 budget from SGA for the 2021-2022 academic year, according to O’Hara.
Several members from Rider’s chapter of TPUSA were contacted for comment and did not respond. However, on Oct. 25 the club released a statement in response to the chage.org petition.
Part of the statement said, “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 events on [CRT] and our speaker Anthony Watson. [TPUSA] is a secular bipartisan organization that advocates for conservative values on college campuses. We pride ourselves on bringing speakers with unique perspectives to our university.”
Students sat in Room 117 in Sweigart Hall and listened to Wilson speak. Some, but not all, of the counterprotestors lined the back wall of the classroom and held signs advocating for CRT. Other students gathered outside the doors with their signs.
Nadia Hussein, a senior psychology and sociology major, was part of the counterprotest. Hussein said, “We made some signs and a few of my peers were able to make a couple points, really talking about getting at the root of what CRT is because I feel like that was missing at the event.”
Previous TPUSA events that incited protests from the community including, “White Privilege is a Myth” in 2019 garnered a big student audience from public advertising.
The “White Privilege is a Myth” event had multiple conflicts, from verbal arguments with the audience to physically not allowing some students or student journalists into the event.
Hussein said during this year’s event, “We did get the opportunity to speak. We were cut off at times, it wasn’t the most respectful.”
Christianah Akinsanmi, a senior acting major, was the organizer of the counterprotest.
Akinsanmi explained, “As a senior, I had the opportunity to see … “The White Privilege is a Myth” event. Seeing that, and helping organize the counter event ‘Seeing Privilege.’ I understood that I had another opportunity to do something similar here.”
Akinsanmi wanted to organize a counterprotest that promoted equity on campus and gathered students who cared about CRT.
“I’m familiar with Turning Point’s, talking points and we intended to go there and have a good time and laugh when we thought things were funny… When he [Watson] was saying that race and identity doesn’t impact what happens in your life… race, gender, sexuality, basically identity doesn’t have an impact on your life, you can forge your own path,” Akinsanmi said strongly. “Obviously, according to CRT and according to, you know, my own experience, I can tell. That’s not true.”