Calling out racism at UMass

March 13, 2009

AMHERST, Mass.--On March 11, around 150 anti-racist students and community members confronted conservative writer Dan Feder at the University of Massachusetts and forced him to end his speech early.

Feder was invited by the UMass Republican Club to give a talk that essentially denied the existence of hate crimes. The event, titled "Hate Crimes: It's Not What You Think," was all the more enraging given the ongoing prosecution of Jason Vassell, a former UMass student who faces up to 30 years in jail for defending himself against a hate crime.

The fight to drop the charges against Jason has developed into strong movement. That's why that the Republican club decided to have a meeting on this topic.

To add insult to injury, many members of the Republican Club actively participated in the publication of an openly bigoted newspaper called The Minuteman, under the auspices of the student group "The Silent Majority."

In response to the publication of The Minuteman, as well as to the continued racist prosecution of Jason Vassell, UMass students formed the Coalition Against Hate on campus, which includes organizations such as the International Socialist Organization, the Radical Student Union and the Pride Alliance. The coalition recently held a speak-out on campus, and put up posters reading, "Hate Crimes, It IS What You Think," in the lead-up to Feder's speaking appearance.

As Feder was being introduced by Republican Club President Greg Collins, the crowd broke out into laughter every time Collins referred to Feder as an "intellectual."

Feder then began his speech, claiming that "you have a better chance of being struck by lightning twice riding a skateboard than you do of being the victim of a hate crime"--at which point he was interrupted by a student asking him to address violence against transgendered people. The student was given a standing ovation as she left the hall, and Feder resumed his rant.

A few minutes later, he was interrupted again by a student protester who was cheered on by the crowd. At this point, Feder decided to cancel the rest of the event. He had to slink to the office of the Republican Club (guarded by police officers) to give the rest of his talk to 30 or so people.

Afterwards, organizers of the Coalition Against Hate met to discuss the next steps for the movement to win a campus that is safe for women, people of color and people of different sexual orientations. Our message is simple--the UMass community refuses to be silent in the face of bigotry.

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