Global migration and immigration. Economic displacement and class conflict. Multiculturalism and ethnic diversity. Social media and mass media. These dynamics in American society, and the world, have alienated many people and led them to retreat into their own self-serving realities. Overwhelmed by the swiftness of change and intolerant of opposing points of view, they express themselves through hate and violence. On college campuses, bigotry and toxic speech are increasingly evident, too.

Appropriately, Rutgers, one of the most culturally, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse universities in the nation—and a microcosm of a changing America and world—was the location for the symposium, “Fighting Hate While Preserving Freedom: A Best Practices Forum.” The March 27 event, sponsored by the Office of the President and the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience, was held on the Livingston campus in Piscataway, attracting top thinkers from the academic and legal professions; government, civic, and religious leaders; and law enforcement officials. They were invited to explore the best practices for combating hate within our constitutional framework, because the temptation to vanquish hateful expressions is complicated by our fundamental belief in freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas.


In his opening remarks, President Robert Barchi said: “We have seen it [religious and ethnic bias] on college campuses, and that involves defamation in speech, defacement of walls with swastikas, dissemination of bigoted memes, acts of violence, and hate speech in the guise of political activism. These expressions of hate and intolerance have absolutely no role at a campus like ours—absolutely no role—and we have to speak out when we see anti-Semitism, or we see Islamophobic comments, and say no, this is not Rutgers, this is not what we believe, this is not where we should be.

“On the other hand,” President Barchi continued, “that’s not to say that in an institution of nearly 100,000 students, faculty, and staff, we’re not going to see those things…. The question is, how do we deal with them when they come up? How do we act, how do we behave? And our first instinct might be to shut them down—shut down those expressions of hatred and those who espouse them. But the best tonic is to treat speech with speech and take on challenging conversations like we’re doing today, with conversations about our differences. The winners of those battles are not the ones who shout the loudest. It’s not about shouting somebody down and preventing them from having a conversation. It’s about standing up for civility and tolerance and making our point of view absolutely clear.”

The agenda for the daylong symposium was organized into three segments to address instances where hate and intolerance are particularly manifest: at houses of worship, on college campuses and online, and in minority communities. The opening keynote address was given by Jeh Johnson, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama. In his speech “Combating Hate in Today’s Homeland,” Johnson explained the federal government’s success during his tenure in building bridges into Muslim communities located within American cities as a means to establish good relationships and thus defuse the recruitment efforts of terrorists.

The lunch keynote addresses were given by George Selim, senior vice president of programs at the Anti-Defamation League, and Francine Roston, rabbi of the Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom in Kalispell, Montana. Selim’s presentation, “The Landscape of Intolerance: The National Perspective,” revealed that there was a 57 percent increase, from 2016 to 2017 alone, in anti-Semitic incidents—the largest single-year increase on record. Roston’s speech, “Responding to Hate With Love: How One Jewish Community Survived Neo-Nazi Cyberattacks,” provided a moving account of how her community, targeted by Richard Spencer and other white supremacists, refused to be intimidated and actually responded to the malice with peaceful actions that promoted pluralism and diversity. “It’s possible to fight hate with love,” she said, “and that’s how we survived.”

Commenting during the afternoon session, “Countering Hate in the Community,” Gurbir S. Grewal, the attorney general of New Jersey, pointed out that, as alarming as the number of bias incidences are in schools, equally troubling is the severity of hate crimes that often lead to physical violence. “An act of violence against one of our communities is an act of violence against all of our communities,” said Grewal, whose office has sought to educate young people by introducing curricula in middle schools and high schools that counter student bias, hate, and bullying. “We are taking responsibility by making it easier to report this type of crime … [and by training] officers to recognize and handle these types of incidents.”

Paul Goldenberg, vice chair of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Faith-Based Council, pointed out that “Rutgers is truly the model” in working with vulnerable communities, bringing communities together, and assisting police officers. Goldenberg, also a senior fellow at the new Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience, worked extensively with Rutgers experts on hate-crime prevention in the United States and Europe for several years, and he has been frequently approached with a familiar question from communities under siege and law enforcement: “What is Rutgers University doing on the ground in places like Molenbeek [Belgium] or other places in the world?”

And Rutgers is leading the charge, Goldenberg added, through its extensive research and through supporting centers like the Miller Center, founded by benefactor Paul Miller NCAS’60, NLAW’62,  to combat expressions of violence while upholding the tenets of a free society. •