UC Berkeley chancellor affirms Milo Yiannopoulos’ right to speak on campus

Photo Mike Allen

Despite numerous cancellations of talks by Milo Yiannopoulos at other UC campuses and widespread opposition at UC Berkeley, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks has affirmed Yiannopoulos’ right to speak on campus at a Wednesday event organized by the Berkeley College Republicans.

In a letter released Thursday, Dirks stressed that while UC Berkeley does not endorse Yiannopoulos’ controversial views or tactics, the campus would continue to uphold the values of the Free Speech Movement by sanctioning Yiannopoulos’ presence and protecting his freedom of expression.

“Our student groups enjoy the right to invite whomever they wish to speak on campus, but we urge them to consider whether exercising that right in a manner that might unleash harmful attacks on fellow students and other members of the community is consistent with their own and with our community’s values,” Dirks said in the letter.

Yiannopoulos’ scheduled speaking engagement, part of his “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” has drawn substantial criticism from the campus community. Many have voiced concern with his targeting of underrepresented populations — including the LGBTQ+ community — at prior stops on his tour.

In an open letter sent Jan. 3 to high-level UC Berkeley administrators, 13 faculty members urged the cancellation of his upcoming talk, and many more have since signed on to the letter.

“Yiannopoulos’ deplorable views pass from protected free speech to incitement, harassment and defamation once they publicly target individuals in his audience or on campus, creating conditions for concrete harm and actually harming students through defamatory and harassing actions,” the faculty letter said. “Such actions are protected neither by free speech nor by academic freedom.”

In his Thursday letter, however, Dirks stressed that the campus has treated BCR’s right to hold the event “as we would that of any other student group.”

“Indeed, we are saddened that anyone would use degrading stunts or verbal assaults on marginalized members of our society to promote a political platform,” Dirks said in the letter.

On Friday, a 34-year-old man was shot during a protest of Milo Yiannopoulos’ stop at the University of Washington. Additionally, on Jan. 14, protesters chanting, “Say it loud, say it clear — racists are not welcome here,” shut down Yiannopoulos’ talk at UC Davis about 30 minutes before the event was scheduled to start.

Yiannopoulos was also scheduled to talk at several other UC campuses, including UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, but those events were also canceled. Yiannopoulos canceled his event at UCLA because the Bruin Republicans, the campus group sponsoring the event, could not accommodate his requests, according to the Daily Bruin. The UC Santa Barbara College Republicans canceled its event after experiencing difficulty scheduling with Yiannopoulos’ handlers, according to the Daily Nexus.  

UCPD Capt. Alex Yao has said the police department is aware of the hazardous incidents that have transpired at other colleges Yiannopoulos has visited and is taking them into consideration as it plans for security precautions at the UC Berkeley event. According to Dirks’ letter, heightened campus security measures will be enforced in anticipation of anti-Yiannopoulos protests.

Dirks added in the letter that the campus will provide “resources and support” to those hurt and targeted by Yiannopoulos’ remarks, with more details to come later.

“We are defending the right to free expression at an historic moment for our nation, when this right is once again of paramount importance,” Dirks said in the letter. “In this context, we cannot afford to undermine those rights, and feel a need to make a spirited defense of the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant.”

Read Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ letter to the campus community below:


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Cassandra Vogel is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @cass_vogxz.