GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Building off a Student Senate rally held in September in response to flyers posted on campus promoting a white supremacist group, Stockton University hosted its first Unite Against Hate Day on Tuesday.

The theme for the event was “Studying and Deconstructing Hate and Terror” and included various lectures, panels and discussions from professors and invited guests.

“Stockton is not the first and will not be the last university to hold an event like this,” said featured speaker Joe Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Levin said that although he is officially retired, he has been actively giving similar presentations at colleges around the country in response to the “the culture that we see now.”

“It’s all about education — and I say education in the broad sense — and community participation,” Levin said Tuesday prior to his speech.

Levin said colleges in particular are at risk to become breeding grounds for hatred.

“The current younger white supremacist, white nationalists, neo-Nazi groups, they see college campuses as great recruiting sites,” he said.

Other speakers included Montclair Police Department Detective Kim L. Nelson-Edwards on how to interact with police, and Arno Michaelis, a former leader of a racist skinhead organization who now works with Serve 2 Unite. There were also discussions on the national anthem protests and sexual assault.

One panel, called “Hate in the Classroom: What is the Line?” questioned how to handle racist, sexist and xenophobic speech in the classroom. Communications professor Donnetrice Allison, who moderated the panel, said it was developed to address the “level of comfort and not caring about comments that are offensive to others,” which she attributed to “Trump America.”

Allison said she tries to use bigoted incidents as teachable moments.

“That is our opportunity to chime in. We don’t just allow that based on this notion of free speech,” she said. “It’s our opportunity to say ‘Let’s talk about this further’ and say, ‘This is propaganda,’ or hold their feet to the fire and say, ‘What are the facts behind what you’re saying?’”

There was some public criticism of Tuesday’s event. In an open letter to Stockton President Harvey Kesselman on Monday, attorney and libertarian political activist Seth Grossman called the rally “blatantly dishonest and extremely harmful and dangerous to students, our local community, and the nation.”

The letter urges Kesselman to “to take immediate remedial action to repair some of the damage, and to institute changes in staff, structure, and process, so that something like this never again takes place at Stockton.”

Grossman criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a biased extremist, and master of hate speech.” He also criticized the event for a lack of conservatives, Republicans and supporters of President Donald Trump. Grossman, in his letter, requests a dialogue with Kesselman to create “an effective remedial program” to counter Tuesday’s event.

In response, Kesselman said Tuesday’s event was designed to generate civil discussion “about sometimes uncomfortable topics,” referencing similar comments made by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch at his recent appearance at the college.

“Mr. Grossman could have participated in today’s activities before taking a position on the content. That is all we ever ask of our students — to listen to different perspectives, and to feel free to ask questions before drawing conclusions,” Kesselman said.

Levin said that he believes in freedom of speech so long as it does not incite violence and said he “would be the last person in the world” to argue that someone like white supremacist Richard Spencer shouldn’t be allowed to speak at a public university, but he countered that it’s the university’s obligation to make sure it’s a peaceful environment where students who oppose his views also have a voice.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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