Through events such as Dutch politico Geert Wilders’ speech, TU Purpose President Alvaro Watson said he hopes to promote social discourse.
Among more than 100 registered student organizations at Temple, one of the newest has drawn a significant amount of notoriety in recent weeks amid controversy over its events and purposes.
Temple University Purpose, which began in March, is now known by many as the host of controversial Dutch parliamentary member Geert Wilders, whose visit to campus last month captured national media attention. Wilders, an outspoken critic of Islam, is assailed by many as a hate-monger, while others claim he is a victim of censorship because of his political beliefs.
Although seen by some as a political statement on TU Purpose’s part – they did, after all, reach out to the College Republicans to help host the event – Alvaro Watson, the group’s president and founder, explained the organization’s mission.
“Our aim is to promote cohesion on campus through learning about our differences,” Watson said.
He emphasized that hosting Wilders was in no way indicative of the views of TU Purpose, which he described as apolitical. Rather, he said, the intention was to promote dialogue on the issues Wilders raised.
“We want to bring different social and political groups together, and to do that, we need to know what we’re up against,” Watson said.
Some, however, did not see it that way. The Office of Student Affairs reportedly informed Watson that death threats were made toward Muslim students in connection with the TU Purpose-hosted Wilders event, forcing the group’s leadership to weigh the risks of carrying on with the event.
“Ultimately, we decided we had a responsibility to go through with it,” Watson said.
Meanwhile, the College Republicans, cautious of the negative publicity that the Wilders speech was garnering, withdrew its affiliation.
While TU Purpose’s first recognized on-campus event would not proceed without criticism – protesters demonstrated outside of Anderson Hall the night of Wilders’ lecture – Watson said he considered the contrasting views to be evidence of his group’s accomplishments.
“We achieved what we set out to achieve, and that was to start a conversation about our differences, but also our similarities,” he said, adding that he was glad to see that students cared enough to voice their opinions through protest. “They made it a success.”
Although it originally consisted of mostly social work majors, the organization recently expanded to include approximately 50 members from various colleges and backgrounds.
Watson said he hopes the group will continue to grow and offer similar programs to promote discourse on social issues.
Don Hoegg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.