A Message from the Provost

Address to the Campus Community
September 11, 2003

It has been two years since the terrible events of September 11, 2001. We will always remember where we were when we first heard the news, and our shock and disbelief at the magnitude of the horror unfolding before us.

Last year, on the first anniversary of September 11, we planted a tree of remembrance on the Norman Samuels Campus Plaza. The tree, fittingly, is a red oak, the state tree of New Jersey. We also unveiled a plaque that bears the name of the 37 Rutgers alumni whose lives were left unfinished on September 11. That tree has grown a bit taller and wider in the past year, and once again, red ribbons are tied to the branches in honor of our lost alumni. I urge everyone to stop at the memorial and pay your respects today. But not just today. As you walk past it throughout the year, take a few moments to reflect.

As we reflect, we may think of those known personally to us who perished on that day. But we also think of what we as a nation, and as individuals, have done and should do in response to what was done to us. Our government has undertaken military and diplomatic actions, and has instituted a wide range of measures designed to increase homeland security. As college students and citizens, it is your responsibility to examine what our government is doing, to analyze these policies carefully, and to express your views.

But there are also actions that we can take as a university community. The events of 9/11 were hate crimes perpetrated by religious and ideological fanatics. Those who planned and executed and supported the attacks utterly reject the idea that religious faith and practice should be a matter of personal choice and individual conviction. They despise America's cultural pluralism, its tolerance -- indeed its celebration -- of difference, however imperfect. They scoff at our commitment to freedom of speech, to individual rights, to the free practice of all religions and the separation of church and state.

This campus has a special responsibility to respond to the message of hatred delivered on 9/11. A few weeks ago, U.S. News and World Report named Rutgers-Newark the most diverse national university in the country for the seventh year in a row. Our students and their parents come from every corner of the globe, are of every racial complexion, speak dozens of languages, and adhere to innumerable religious traditions. Culture and cultural differences are integral to our curricular offerings, and our faculty tells me how exciting they find the learning opportunities presented by having so many different ethnic and religious traditions represented in our classrooms. Our Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, headed by Professor Clement Price, has pioneered in translating scholarly research on ethnicity, race, and the social construction of difference for popular audiences, public school curricula, state police officers, and many others.

One of the best ways our campus can respond to the hate crimes of 9/11 is to take fullest advantage of the cultural differences within our own community. This campus has been remarkably free of inter-group tensions found in many other universities. When students of such diverse backgrounds sit in the classrooms and the cafeteria together, they inevitably learn from each other.

I urge you not to leave this intercultural leaning to chance. Make it your business to get to know students from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. If you are active in an ethnic or religious student organization, find ways to undertake dialogue with other groups, Invite members of other groups to your celebrations and events. If you make the most of the unique opportunities this extraordinarily diverse campus offers, you will enhance your own education, and you will build a better America. After all, R-N is a microcosm of what America will look like 50 years from now.

We must also redouble our commitment to free speech and individual rights, both on campus and throughout the nation. In times of war and national emergency, our nation has often violated its most cherished principles under the guise of national security. The attacks on German-Americans and German-American institutions during World War I, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the persecution of those who criticized national policy and social injustice during the McCarthy era are now widely acknowledged as shameful episodes in our history. The Constitutional Litigation Clinic at our law school, directed by Professor Frank Askin, for over thirty years has undertaken litigation to protect the rights of individuals, and the right of free speech. It is actively engaged in challenging civil liberties violations since 9/11. As a university, we have a deep commitment to protecting the presentation of all points of view.

We must respect the rights of all members of our campus community to present their points of view, even if we find these hurtful or offensive. To do otherwise is to hand a victory to the perpetrators of 9/11, who have no use for the civil liberties we hold so dear.

The terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were attacking what we stand for as a nation. One of our most dearly held beliefs is that different groups of people can work together, learn together and play together, without giving up their ethnic or religious heritage or group identity.

By standing together in friendship and unity, by reaching out to those from different backgrounds, by protecting the civil liberties of those with whom we disagree, we defend our right to be one nation of many peoples, cultures, and religions. And we stand together in defiance of the hatred, bigotry and ignorance that brought us 9/11.

Steven J. Diner, Provost