We all know how Calmail tends to act up now and again, and we also know how fond Chancellor Birgeneau is of espousing his personal political beliefs via the UC Berkeley campus email list — yet I still await his passionate email condemning the decision of the Black Student Union to host the unabashedly anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic and generally hateful Louis Farrakhan to speak at the African Black Coalition Conference this weekend. One can only assume Chancellor Birgeneau is still working out the right wording for that message to the campus community.
However, Robert Birgeneau, the Black Student Union, the ASUC Senate and several others wasted no time in unanimously denouncing the actions of the Berkeley College Republicans in hosting an “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” last September to protest the affirmative action-type policies in State Senate Bill 185. The Berkeley College Republicans were quickly written off as racists and “insensitive white kids,” and in the meanwhile, their very specific political point was being ignored entirely.
Our elected student government in the ASUC Senate moved quickly to condemn the actions of the Berkeley College Republicans on the grounds that the “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” violated campus climate codes, and that such an event would be so offensive to so many students that it would actually lead members of the campus community to feel unsafe on campus. That’s right, cupcakes with different prices being sold by a small handful of College Republicans would make an ethnic student feel unsafe going to class.
Meanwhile, there is no issue inviting Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, who has proudly preached hateful ideas such as, “White people are potential humans — they haven’t evolved yet,” or “It seems like being gay or whatever sin you wish to be a part of is okay … but I have the duty to lift that gay person up to the standard to ask if they want to live the life that God wants them to or live the lifestyle that they want to live.” If there is concern for campus climate, what effect do Chancellor Birgeneau or our ASUC Senate think Farrakhan will have on our campus community?
In an open letter to the university condemning the Berkeley College Republicans’s bake sale last September, Chancellor Birgeneau proclaimed, “Regardless what policies or practices one advocates, careful consideration is needed on how to express those opinions. The issue is not whether one thinks an action is satirical or inoffensive, the issue is whether community members will be intentionally — or unintentionally — hurt or demeaned by that action.” Is Chancellor Birgeneau outraged by the hosting of Louis Farrakhan by a UC Berkeley student group now, or is he simply without principle?
Or rather, where is the outrage from our elected ASUC senators? Instead of condemning such a hateful speaker, the Senate passed a bill to spend $1,500 in contingency funds to subsidize the event hosting Farrakhan. So in essence, following precedents set by the Chancellor and the ASUC, our student government is sanctioning hate speech with their discretionary dollars.
We have a student government that is utterly incapable of standing up to hypocrisy whenever issues like this arise. Unfortunately, even ASUC Senator Noah Ickowitz, a personal friend of mine, was unable to draw a line of conviction in the senate chambers and oppose this discretionary funding bill. He explained that while he personally opposes bringing Farrakhan to campus, he still voted to spend $1,500 on the conference. How on Earth is this leadership?
But fear not — our brave ASUC executive officers have come out in vocal opposition to the hosting of Louis Farrakhan, although they have no intentions of doing anything about the funding of the event itself. In an op-ed to The Daily Californian, they collectively wrote, “… even if Farrakhan does not echo his previous intolerant statements, his presence alone speaks volumes. By granting him an audience, we are condoning his previous actions, and in so doing, damaging the delicate campus climate we strive to protect” — although I am unsure how exactly, by giving some deranged bigot a microphone, we are “condoning his previous actions” and thus violating the mission of the university.
To be clear, I am not opposed to any speaker coming to campus to preach whatever philosophy they believe in — I believe in a free and open marketplace of ideas at Cal. And I trust the free market to sort out which ideas are compelling and which ones are nonsensical. When our campus leaders come out and try to condone any type of speech in the name of “protecting a safe campus climate,” they are literally calling you, the students, too stupid to sort between valuable discourse and meaningless hate speech.
So I am not truly calling on Chancellor Birgeneau to condemn the Black Student Union for inviting a hateful bigot to their conference, nor do I ask for the ASUC to threaten to defund their group. Rather, I ask for a student government and a campus administration that are competent enough to be consistent in their policies and treat UC Berkeley students as adults who are capable of sorting through these issues on their own.
Shawn Lewis is the president of the Berkeley College Republicans.