Emblazoned across Sather Gate and the UC Berkeley seal, “Fiat Lux,” let there be light, serves as a reminder of the tenets of our institution. We hold a set of enduring principles that commit us to the lifelong pursuit of knowledge and fact-based understanding of our world in order to make it more equitable, fair and just.
Marches, riots and demonstrations have erupted across the United States in response to recent actions by the Trump administration that are indicative of the early warning signs of fascism — disdain for human rights, obsession with national security, rampant sexism and contempt for intellectuals. These massive, uninhibited actions based on bigotry and xenophobia threaten to tear our democracy apart and propel us into darkness.
Yet the turbulence of the first weeks of Trump’s presidency may have a silver lining — millions have become more involved and more informed about the systemic issues plaguing our society. As Michael Moore famously quipped, “Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy.”
Academic institutions serve a critical role in supporting participatory democracy by providing a platform for the exchange of diverse ideas in the pursuit of wisdom and truth. The importance of this role was called out from the steps of Sproul Hall in 1964 when Mario Savio called upon his fellow classmates to respond to the “odious” nature of an oppressive institution, and that unless freedom of expression is afforded to everyone, “the machine will be prevented from working at all.”
On the birthdate of renowned social activist and poet Langston Hughes and the start of Black History Month, a peaceful demonstration against Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right Breitbart editor known for his inflammatory and racist rhetoric, was usurped by violent masked agitators. Hughes’ words from 1949 remain salient: “Democracy will not come today, this year, nor ever through compromise and fear.” Do not let divisiveness and fear make us lose track of our principles. We are and always will be stronger where diverse voices and opinions can be heard in a peaceful and respectful manner.
I commend the UC Berkeley administration, faculty, staff and students who worked hard to ensure a peaceful demonstration and thank those who are working tirelessly to mend what has been broken by those who decided to incite fear and hatred rather than support open dialogue.
I implore you to continue to uphold UC Berkeley’s Principles of Community, to place honesty and integrity at the forefront of all that you do, to uphold the dignity of all individuals, and to remain committed to the transformational power of diversity in our endeavors.
As you pass under Sather Gate and walk across the steps of Sproul Hall, please be reminded of the great privilege and responsibility you have to be a beacon of light to counter this darkening time.
—Brandie Nonnecke is a postdoctoral student at UC Berkeley