Boise State University

BSU’s Kustra launches human-rights project, laments comments by Trump & Labrador

Boise State President Bob Kustra, in a photo from 2013.
Boise State President Bob Kustra, in a photo from 2013. Idaho Statesman file

Boise State University has launched an initiative in the name of longtime Boise human rights activist Marilyn Shuler, who died in February.

University President Bob Kustra announced the Marilyn Shuler Human Rights Initiative, inspired and funded by a gift and a challenge from alumna Shuler, on Wednesday during his 15th State of the University address.

“At this moment in our history, it is critical that we distinguish our campus as a place that embraces diversity and inclusion and that works hard to foster civility, civic engagement and open dialogue on important issues,” Kustra said.

Kustra also used his speech to decry the white nationalist violence over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va., and criticize the responses of some public officials like President Trump and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. On Tuesday, the university had sent out a statement from Kustra in response to that violence.

“We stand in firm and total opposition to the hatred and fanaticism contained in white supremacy groups and their ilk,” Kustra said. “That’s not what this university or this city is about. Far from it.”

Marilyn Shuler
Marilyn Shuler Statesman file photo Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

The Marilyn Shuler Human Rights Initiative will offer human rights education and teach advocacy skills on campus, and it will eventually include an academic certificate in human rights issues and advocacy, according to a university news release.

Led by history professor Jill Gill, the initiative will host its first event in October, featuring two of the activists who battled North Idaho white supremacists for two decades.

“We must endeavor to preserve and celebrate the freedom of speech that separates our country from so many others ... by creating an atmosphere where ideas and ideals can flourish and no one feels threatened or unsafe,” Kustra said.

In his speech Wednesday, Kustra stressed that when looking at the events in Charlottesville, there are only two sides to take. One side ignites racial bigotry, and the other is the right side, he said.

“The lame efforts by the president to speak on this subject just makes matters worse, of course, and further divide our country,” Kustra said. “Our universities are drawn into this because we exist in a space that guarantees the free expression of ideas, but as we saw … violence sometimes follows close behind. We have to be on guard here at Boise State, but we also have to be committed to fostering dialogue and education to combat ignorance and hatred.”

Kustra said the university will continue to support students’ right to free speech.

“(Public universities are a place) where constitutionally protected free speech is exercised with regularity,” he said. “But that means our campuses will have to be on the highest alert for the ideological clashes that will continue to take place, as this marketplace of ideas becomes at times where (it’s) what President Obama called ‘a battlefield of ideas.’”

Kustra said he was also discouraged by the comments some public officials made about the violence in Charlottesville.

“Congressman Labrador, for example, decided that he would come out against white nationalism, but he also came out against black nationalism,” Kustra said. “And it’s like, ‘let me Google that.’ When you Google ‘black nationalism’ it takes you back to the 1960s and ’70s. (That’s) a movement that I won’t go into, but the fact is is (black nationalism) has nothing to do with what happened last weekend.”

Shuler, for whom the initiative is named, was the longtime director of the Idaho Human Rights Commission who co-founded, built and promoted the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial.

The human rights initiative could not come at a more appropriate time, Kustra said.

Also in his annual speech, Kustra detailed plans to pursue a new building for the School of Public Service, which will join the Micron Business and Economics Building and the under-construction Center for Fine Arts at the campus’s west entrance. The four-story building will cost an estimated $15 million to $21 million and include about 50,000 to 70,000 square feet, according to a news release.

And he revealed the creation of the new School of the Arts, designed to bridge disciplines and create new opportunities in fine art, music, theater and creative writing. The school will be part of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Marilyn Shuler, a longtime human rights leader, died at a Boise hospital on Thursday. She was 77. In May 2014, Shuler was given an honorary doctorate at Boise State University and addressed the graduates at commencement.

Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447