Rutgers chapter of Young Americans for Liberty gives libertarians a voice on campus
The Rutgers chapter of Young Americans for Liberty held its first meeting this past Wednesday.
According to their mission statement, Young Americans for Liberty aims to promote and educate the students of Rutgers University to the ideas of liberty, peace, the constitution and free markets through activism and intellectual dialogue with the general student body.
Andrea Vacchiano, the president of the club, said that Young Americans for Liberty supports drug reform, prison reform and small government economic policies.
“We try to educate our peers about libertarian principles through activism events and hosting speakers, and we also try to make some pro-liberty changes within Rutgers,” the School of Arts and Sciences junior said.
One such pro-liberty change advocated by Young Americans for Liberty is the reform of Rutgers' policies on public speech, said Aviv Khavich, a School of Engineering junior and the group's vice president.
Khavich said that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) rates schools according to how well they preserve students' rights to free speech.
FIRE assigns each school a color code — red, yellow or green — which corresponds to their policies protecting free speech.
According to FIRE's website, a “red light school” is designated as one that has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech, a “yellow light school” is one with some policies that could ban or excessively regulate protected speech and a “green light school” has no serious threats to free speech.
“Rutgers is a yellow light school,” Khavich said. “So we're not the worst of the worst. We don't have free speech zones where they confine you to one small area where you can speak ... There are some issues that need to be cranked out, some clauses that can be used too broadly or are too ambiguous.”
Khavich said that rather than “free speech zones,” Rutgers has “public forum zones,” which are designated areas where the University will allow students to hold demonstrations during certain hours of the day.
Students who attended the involvement fair at the beginning of the semester may have seen Young Americans for Liberty's free speech ball, a giant beach ball that people could sign.
Khavich said that the free speech ball is a tactic used by many chapters of Young Americans for Liberty to fight problematic free speech codes. If the school moves to shut down the event, the club reports it to FIRE, who will file a lawsuit.
“We had plenty of people from across the (political) spectrum sign the free speech ball,” Khavich said. “Most people enjoyed it. Although I do have to mention, the free speech ball was poked by several LGBT pins, and then someone slashed a big hole in the ball.”
Vacchiano said that Young Americans for Liberty is generally well received by the student body, and is even supported by certain centrists and leftists who may sympathize with some libertarian values. Yet there is occasionally backlash against the group's activities.
In February 2016, the group hosted Milo Yiannopoulos to much controversy. Khavich said that the talk was probably one of the biggest events Rutgers has had in years and that it was protested heavily.
Protesters formed a ring around Scott Hall where Yiannopoulos was speaking and shouted at the organizers, Khavich said.
“(Yiannopoulos) is a provocateur, but a lot of the points he's making are very prescient, very needed at this time,” Khavich said. “As long as Berkeley keeps having armies rise up whenever he shows up, his point is still valid, which is why he needs to continue and why other conservative speakers need to continue coming to campus.”
Most of the events hosted by Young Americans for Liberty do not meet such opposition. Less than two weeks after Milo Yiannopoulos's talk, the group hosted Ron Paul, a politician most closely associated with the libertarian movement.
This year, Vacchiano said, the group plans to host Cathy Young, a journalist who frequently contributes to the libertarian magazine "Reason," Christina Hoff Sommers, a philosopher known for her criticisms of modern feminism and Pete Rohrman, a libertarian running for New Jersey governor.
Even though most of the events hosted by Young Americans for Liberty serve to promote thoughtful discourse, Vacchiano said that there are still misconceptions about the club.
“We believe very strongly in free speech and we acknowledge that hate speech is protected under free speech, but we don't promote it,” Vacchiano said. “I think that's something that the campus sorely misinterprets.”
Max Marcus is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.