We don’t want “free speech” that is condoned by the administration. Let us explain. Chancellor Nicholas Dirks is tasked with defending and bettering the institution of UC Berkeley. This is no easy task, and there is no right way to do the job. The institution that is this university needs support, both financially and otherwise, from individuals in power. It reflects badly on our university — in the eyes of those in power — when speech is used to disrupt the status quo. It will never be in the university’s interest, then, to condone all speech from students, faculty and members of the neighboring community, because some of that speech will be against the status quo.
Who decides what is “divisive?” We cannot give a thorough answer in this one article, but we would suggest that those who benefit from the white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy — a term coined by bell hooks — are those who decide what is divisive. For many students, the issues that are “inherently divisive, controversial, and capable of arousing strong feelings” are the issues that have meant life or death for the communities we come from and the identities we hold.
We are opposed to hate speech and violence against other students, whether it is physical, emotional or mental. But free speech isn’t what hurts students — the administration is. Student protests have largely been nonviolent, yet whether it was the movement to divest from South African apartheid, the Third World Liberation Front or Occupy Cal, the administration has been the one to commit violence against students. Furthermore, it is this argument of “civility” that administrators have used to undermine student and faculty free speech, either by denying tenure to qualified faculty or by denouncing democratic, student-government resolutions. The burden of the “civility” that Dirks calls for is on the administration that has beaten students bloody, not on students who come to our ASUC Senate and raise their voice.
We will not censor ourselves for this institution. Students’ commitment to free speech and expression certainly can lead to division, but unlike Dirks, we do not believe this division undermines us. The divisions that are brought out by true free speech are nothing like the divisions that the white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy has created to turn oppressed groups against each other for centuries. The division created by true free speech, rather, gives us less room to be comfortable.
We did not come to UC Berkeley to be comfortable and complacent. We know what it feels like to have core beliefs challenged — it can be more than just uncomfortable: it can hurt. But growth comes from this pain. We would not be where we are today if it were not for friends, allies and even people we dislike who asked us hard questions and made us think about the world more critically. Free speech should, by nature, make those with power in the university nervous. If it doesn’t, we’re not talking about the right things.
Caitlin Quinn is the ASUC external affairs vice president and Baltazar Dasalla is an ASUC senator.