Posters Spark Debates About Alan Dershowitz Lecture


Protest through Posters

Mara Stein, Editor-in-Chief

Dozens of posters protesting the upcoming visit of lawyer Alan Dershowitz to campus were disseminated throughout academic buildings on Monday, October 29. The posters, whose source is unknown, claim that Dershowitz is an “accused child rapist” and question whether the Colgate community should allow him on campus. Their distribution sparked a larger debate on campus involving free speech, sexual assault and anti-Semitism.

Dershowitz is scheduled to deliver a lecture titled “Civil Liberties in the Age of Trump” on Monday, November 5 in the Colgate Memorial Chapel. The event is sponsored by the Center for Freedom and Western Civilization, which describes itself as a “forum for civic debate and scholarly research.” Past CFWC speakers include retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Posters appeared on Monday in buildings including Alumni Hall, Lathrop Hall, Lawrence Hall and McGregory Hall. They read: “Colgate is hiring Alan Dershowitz, an accused child rapist, to speak on November 5th. Considering only 2.1% of rape accusations are false, should we be welcoming him to our campus?”

Junior Julia Segal noticed the posters on Monday morning.

“It makes me proud to go to a school where students make their voice heard if there’s something happening here they don’t agree with,” Segal said.

Dershowitz is a prominent criminal defense attorney and former professor of law at Harvard Law School. He is known for his high-profile clients, the likes of which have included O.J. Simpson and, more recently, Harvey Weinstein.

In 2014, Dershowitz was accused in a Florida court filing of having sex with an underage girl who was employed by his former client, billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. The girl, Jane Doe #3 (later identified as Virginia Roberts), claimed that Epstein forced her to have sex with “politically-connected and financially-powerful people,” including Britain’s Prince Andrew and Dershowitz. Both men denied the allegations. According to Reuters, the charges against the men were ultimately stricken from the record in 2015, when U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra in West Palm Beach ordered them irrelevant to a lawsuit that sought to undo a non-prosecution agreement between

Epstein and federal prosecutors. There are no other sexual misconduct claims against Dershowitz.

Professor of Political Science and Director of the CFWC, Robert Kraynak, said that the posters are based on “false and misleading claims” about Dershowitz.

“The case alleging sexual conduct with a minor was dismissed and labeled a ‘mistake’ by the lawyers bringing the suit and further discredited after an FBI investigation,” Kraynak said, citing articles in Newsweek and the Harvard Crimson.

“It is understandable that Mr. Dershowitz, as a defense lawyer who has defended many controversial people, is himself a high-profile target for false accusations. Nevertheless, he has compiled a distinguished record of teaching at Harvard Law School for fifty years, and he has spoken at many universities on hot button topics such as divesting from Israel, impeaching president Trump and civil liberties. His visit to Colgate will certainly spark some lively discussions on constitutional and political issues in American politics today and will test our educational community’s commitment to free speech,” Kraynak said.

Spencer Kelly, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, is the chairman of Colgate’s Task Force on Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression, which released an official statement earlier this month about the University’s academic freedom policies.

“Our Statement supports both the people who invited Alan Dershowitz and the people who voiced opposition to him,” Kelly said. “However, it also recognizes that if we do not invest in building a stronger community that can successfully listen and engage across difference, the voices on both sides will be ineffective. If Colgate were to consistently have a culture where people could discuss potential visits in advance, opposing sides would better understand the perspective of the other side. In lieu of that for now, a ‘high tea’ on Thursday is an excellent opportunity to create some mutual understand- ing in advance of the visit.”

Dershowitz is considered by some to be the most influential American Jew. The sexual misconduct allegations against him have been emphasized in the past by white supremacists organizations, such as The Daily Stormer, in anti-Semitic ways. Some Jewish students expressed concern that the distribution of these posters overlooked the current climate, both on campus and across the nation, following recent anti-Semitic events.

Sophomore Gideon Hamot shared his views as a member of the Colgate Jewish community.

“Considering the use of these unfounded allegations by a multitude of neo-Nazi organizations, it feels incredibly tone-deaf to post these [posters] after recent events in Pittsburgh,” Hamot said. “There are legitimate criticisms one can make of Dershowitz and it is concerning that an unfounded al- legation that has gained traction among Nazi sympathizers was chosen.”

Tracia Banuelos, Program Coordinator for Haven, said the organization plans to provide a space for survivors during the November 5 lecture.

“Given that [Dershowitz] is coming to campus so quickly, our priority is supporting students who are upset by his presence and ensuring that they know they are valid,” Banuelos said.

On behalf of the CFWC, Professor of Political Science Stanley Brubaker will be hosting the “high tea,” a group discussion for students who have concerns about Dershowitz, on Thursday, November 1, at 4:15 p.m. in the Classics Center (Lawrence 112-114).

Contact Mara Stein at [email protected].