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Rutgers Launches Series to Meet the Moment With Humanity Amid Rising Tensions
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Rutgers Launches Series to Meet the Moment With Humanity Amid Rising Tensions

By Lisa Intrabartola

At a time of global conflict when tensions are rising everywhere – including on college campuses – University Equity and Inclusion (UEI) is asking members of Rutgers’ community to engage in conversations about how to “Meet the Moment with Humanity."

UEI’s Meet the Moment campaign includes two universitywide series – one featuring documentary films, the other speaker-led discussions – both designed to facilitate civil discourse at Rutgers between students, staff and faculty. The campaign also introduces our community commitments that reaffirm the importance of building an inclusive community and remind us that we all have a role to play.

“We knew coming into the spring that we needed to help the community engage productively,” said Anna Branch, senior vice president of equity. “It’s really easy to say that word – ‘community’ – and really hard to figure out how to do it. What does it mean? The aim of the two series was to invite our community to grapple with that concept.”

The UEI-curated Reject Hate Documentary Series explores four recent tragedies motivated by hate that targeted the LGBTQ, Black, Muslim, and Jewish communities. The first of the four documentaries, “Repairing the World: Stories from the Tree of Life,” screens 5:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at Rutgers Cinema and details a community’s response to hate and antisemitism in the aftermath of the 2018 assault on of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA – the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history. All four documentaries remind us that rising hate is a reality of our national climate. It is uncomfortable, but we cannot look away, said Branch.

“Hate often begins with speech and ends in violence. We need to clearly condemn hate and remind people that hate unchecked kills,” she said. “We all have a responsibility to not just pay attention to the fact that there is hate, but to also say, ‘No. Not in my community. Not on my campus.’”

The Navigating Tensions, Affirming Communities Speaker Series features engaging in-person keynotes that will rotate across all four chancellor-led units. Each talk will also be live-streamed to encourage universitywide participation. The first discussion, “What Does Community Mean in a Polarized Society?” led by Kazu Haga, a nonviolence and restorative justice trainer who founded the East Point Peace Academy, is scheduled for noon Thursday (Jan. 25) at the Zimmerli Art Museum. All four talks will be available on the Rutgers University Diversity YouTube website.

The goal of Meet the Moment’s three-pronged approach is to affirm the importance of community even in the midst of rising tensions, said Branch, "to do the hard work required to live up to aspirational values like diversity, equity and inclusion that are much easier to commit to in the abstract versus in conflict."

“The notion of community is that people may share every ideal that you do. One of the realities of American society is that we live racially, economically and educationally segregated lives. We interact with people who are like us. Colleges and universities are unique places where we are brought into spaces with people who are not like us, and that creates all sorts of conflicts,” said Branch. “The goal is to give folks some tools to ask some hard questions. What does it look like to work toward inclusion? How do I bring dignity into this moment? What is the difference between hate speech and dangerous speech? Why should I care? These are skills we need to have in this moment rather than being silent.”

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