Gov. Ned Lamont and other state leaders gathered with college officials to discuss preventing hate crimes on campus in November 2023. Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

Members of college security agencies and state government met Thursday afternoon in what they called a “proactive” conversation about preventing hate crimes and hate speech on campuses amid high tensions seen across the country over the Israel and Hamas war. 

Officials said that 65 members of the “higher education public safety community” from the state’s 28 colleges and universities, leadership from the state’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and law enforcement from the FBI and state police met Thursday for a two-hour conversation that centered on federal and state resources available to the institutions, including additional training, outreach with student leaders, social media monitoring and best practices on how to “lower the temperature” among students with differing beliefs.

“There’s a lot of stress out there a month after the incident in Israel, and I know that stress and strain that people feel on both sides and how hard that is,” said Gov. Ned Lamont after the meeting. “We’re doing everything we can to keep you safe and remind people that you have the right to disagree on issues. You have the right to disagree on our policies. That is not hate speech. Hate speech is where you vilify people for who they are and their background. … That’s unacceptable. That’s the type of hateful language that sometimes turns into violence. So, we met today to do everything we can to prevent that from happening.”

The closed-door conversation was prompted by incidents outside of Connecticut, DESPP Commissioner Ronnell Higgins said. 

Protests have broken out across college campuses throughout the country, most recently at Columbia University, which has banned two pro-Palestine groups. Other protests, arrests or suspensions took place at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“Often, what we’ve found … is there are signs and [certain] rhetoric starting to increase. We’ve also learned, and we know this, that oftentimes when we reach out to student leaders or other groups that humanize one another, we can disrupt bad behavior and take the temperature down,” Higgins said. “Universities have discovery and the sharing and exchange of ideas. They must remain that. Our communities are counting on us. They’re counting on us to preserve the free speech rights of everyone on campus.”

Although two student organizations at UConn claimed they received threatening messages, according to The Daily Campus, Higgins said he wasn’t concerned about any college campus in particular.

“That wasn’t something that came up in the conversation,” Higgins said, adding that every institution’s safety protocols are different.

“We provided resources. There was some good leadership discussions, but it’s really, for the most part, each institution has their own way of managing it,” Higgins said. “Again, us coming together today was proactive, at the governor’s directive. … There is no one particular campus that is a hotspot. There is no bright flashing light on one particular campus.”

The group is expected to reconvene in March.

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.