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‘This is hate speech’: Students harassed by extremist protestors on campus

<h5>Protestors gathered along Washington Road.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of Jasper Waldman</h6>
Protestors gathered along Washington Road. 
Courtesy of Jasper Waldman

Content Warning: This article includes mention of violent hate speech.

A group of self-identifying Christian protestors stood along Washington Road across from Robertson Hall on Tuesday, making sexist, homophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-Catholic, and otherwise offensive remarks to the surrounding crowd of students. They were met by counter-protestors from the University community. 

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They carried signs that said “feminists are whores,” “women belong in the kitchen,” and “Jesus still kills people,” alongside a sign that listed specific demographics with a “warning” to “obey Jesus or [face] Hellfire.” The group held a similar demonstration last fall and was also met by a student counter-demonstration.

In an email to The Daily Princetonian, Kristopher Oliveira, Director of the Gender + Sexuality Resource Center, commended the students who responded to the protesters.

“I am proud of students who reminded their colleagues that some demonstrators are not interested in a productive or informed exchange of ideas,” Oliveira said. “I am also proud of the students who — in light of hurtful rhetoric — reminded their classmates that each of us belongs here. Because we do.”

Derin Arat ’26 was one of the students whom the protestors targeted. Upon finding out she was Turkish and Muslim, the protestors shouted Islamophobic rhetoric at her. 

Arat told the ‘Prince’ that she felt unprotected by the University. 

“I was on campus and walking to my class, which is in the SPIA building. If I’m required to cross that path to attend a class, then it’s Public Safety’s duty to protect my well-being and provide me security. I was harassed and called names today on the street at Princeton, and the school didn’t do anything about it other than just passively watching it,” she said.

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“I wasn’t asked once by any of the officers or staff members present there if I was doing alright after the incident,” she added. 

Aisha Chebbi ’24, who serves as president of the Muslim Students Association, told the ‘Prince’ that the incident was “painful.”

“The periodic arrival of this group on campus is always coupled with feelings of anxiety, dread, and concern for Muslim students,” Chebbi wrote.

“Islamophobia is an unfortunately real and profound aspect of the Muslim experience in America, and sadly Princeton’s campus is no exception. After incidents like these, it is the collective, important responsibility of our campus community to address these harms and to find ways to provide healing for those affected,” she added. 

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Asked to comment on Arat’s critique of the University’s response, University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss referenced action taken by Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS) free speech facilitators present at the event. 

“After being formally notified by free expression facilitators that the demonstration was violating Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.2.3 by disrupting “regular and essential operations of the University,” the demonstrators relocated to a public sidewalk closer to Washington Road. The demonstrators also stopped use of amplified sound at the request of University officials,” he wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’ 

The protestors were initially at the bottom of the stairs of McCosh Walk, leading to the crosswalk on Washington Road in front of Robertson Hall. After speaking with the free expression facilitators, they moved a few feet closer to Washington Road, onto the sidewalk, which is public property. 

Some students chose to engage with the protestors or counter their speech. Those who engaged took a variety of tactics: challenging the protesters’ rhetoric directly, taking photos in front of the signs, or yelling out to the crowd. Several students who walked by the crowd commented that they thought the protestors were “joking” or laughed at the extremist protestors’ statements.

By 1:45 p.m., some of the extremists had left and three men, each holding a sign, remained. Two students kissed in front of the protestors, eliciting cheers from the gathered crowd. Another student, Joey Nartker ’25, sat shirtless in the rain in front of the protestors silently for several minutes. He stated that the intention of this act was to draw attention away from other students who were the subject of verbal attacks by the demonstrators on Tuesday.

Nartker said that a few members of Public Safety and members of the administration approached him and told him that sitting in the rain “wasn’t worth his time” and warned him against getting sick before final exams.

Another group of counter-protestors loudly read a speech containing various Bible verses to cover up the shouts of the original group. These students identified themselves as Christians who believed the message the men were preaching was hateful and against the true teachings of the Bible.

One of the readers, Katie Horan ’25, spoke to the ‘Prince’ at the protest. 

“It is clear that these men are here to stir up dissent, to make students feel angry, to make them feel unsafe, to make them feel like they don’t belong on this campus. And I don’t think that’s what the message of scripture is at all,” she said.

Jhonelle Moore ’25 echoed that sentiment, telling the ‘Prince’ that the messages of the men “were not based in scripture.”

In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel Rev. Alison Boden condemned the statements of the protestors and emphasized the need for “love and justice.”

“The visitors’ insults and attacks on the queer community, women, and non-Christians may be for them authentic expressions of Christianity, but they are terribly wrong,” she said. 

However, Boden said it is their right to protest on campus. 

“My personal opinion is that these visitors have a right to stand in public spaces (this group is always very strategic in where they choose to act) and to speak their minds, even if their opinions are offensive,” she said. 

Several students were informed by ODUS administrators and Public Safety present at the event to not interact with the protestors and to be careful not to touch them. The protestors had set up a camera to film the event and one appeared to wear a body camera. One of the protesters, James Ross, told the ‘Prince’ the cameras were there “in case the cops try to violate [their] rights.”

Present administrators from ODUS identified themselves as “free expression facilitators.” These individuals did not comment on the protest. 

Micah Kittay ’26, a student observing the event, said to the ‘Prince,’ “They’re just clowns who have no idea what they’re talking about.”

Other students commented on the seriousness of the event and concerns regarding hate speech and protest.

Jack Ganley ’26 recounted hearing the use of slurs by the protestors and targeted comments from the protestors wishing death upon students. 

“I think they’ve crossed the line between freedom of speech and incitement of violence,” Ganley said. “I think this needs to change. This isn’t freedom of speech; this is hate speech.”

According to the ODUS website, University free speech includes “the right to acts of peaceful dissent, protests in peaceable assembly, and orderly demonstrations which include picketing and the distribution of leaflets,” unless or until “they disrupt regular and essential operations of the University or significantly infringe on the rights of others, particularly the right to listen to a speech or lecture.”

The signs of the extremist group link them to Key of David Christian Center, a group that identifies themselves as non-denominational Christians. They frequently travel to college campuses around the country to conduct similar demonstrations.

The group was sighted on campus in the fall and spring of 2021, as well as the spring of 2019.

In her comment to the ‘Prince,’ Boden expressed support for students and offered resources for those affected by the protestors’ actions.

“Every chaplain at the University is eager, now and always, to be a resource for any student who has experienced yesterday’s events as harmful, infuriating, anything, so please reach out to us,” she said. 

Editor’s Note: This piece has been corrected to more accurately represent the interaction between the protestors and University free speech facilitators that resulted in the protestors moving off of campus property. The ‘Prince’ regrets this error. 

Sophie Glaser is a News and Features contributor, as well as a copy editor for the ‘Prince.’ 

Julian Hartman-Sigall is a News and Newsletter contributor for the ‘Prince.’ 

Kayra Sener is a News contributor for the ‘Prince.’ 

Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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