Members of the campus community have expressed mixed views in response to recent events surrounding conservative author Ann Coulter’s pending visit to the UC Berkeley campus.
Students, professors and other community members differed in their interpretations of the free speech and campus security issues raised after campus administration initially postponed Coulter’s planned visit to campus April 27 but then later reinvited her to speak on campus May 2.
“The university was wrong to cancel the speech,” said Jack Citrin, campus professor of political science and director of the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies. “Saying … without providing any evidence that there was imminent violence (was a) made up on-the-spot excuse. (Administration) had ample time to plan to provide security.”
In March, two campus student groups, the Berkeley College Republicans and BridgeUSA, invited Coulter to campus to address students on the subject of illegal immigration. After campus administrators proposed Tuesday to reschedule Coulter’s event to September, citing security concerns, BCR hired First Amendment lawyer Harmeet Dhillon to represent the organization in a potential lawsuit against the campus.
Campus chancellor’s professor of public policy Robert Reich said in a Facebook post that he felt it was a “grave mistake” on the campus’s part to postpone Coulter’s speech. Citrin said he believes the campus’s decision to reinvite Coulter is valid, but he alleged that the campus only did so because of the bad publicity it had received from cancelling the event in the first place.
Berkeley College Republicans spokesperson Naweed Tahmas could not be reached for comment.
Campus junior Pranav Idnany said that in the long run, inviting Coulter back to campus was the “correct decision.”
“Let’s talk about the issues rather than the person behind the ideas,” Idnany said. “The issue is that UC Berkeley can’t control what happens if protesters come to the event, and they will get criticized if they try to cancel the event — it’s a lose-lose situation.”
Like Idnany, some campus community members agreed with the campus’s decision to reschedule Coulter’s appearance. According to campus junior Vicky Zamarripa, the safety and security of the campus community is “the most important thing.”
“I think if UCPD decides there isn’t enough security measures to keep Ann Coulter and students safe, they have the right to reschedule the event,” Zamarripa said.
Campus freshman Alec Willerman agreed, stating that administration has to walk the line between security and upholding free speech carefully.
Other campus community members, however, said they felt it was wrong of the campus to change its decision after delaying Coulter’s appearance on campus.
“I think it’s better for the campus to make a decision and stick to it … because not only does it affect the consequences, it affects how to restrain riots,” said campus sophomore Ryan Shaw. “I’m a Republican. … There’s a lot more to offer from other Republican speakers, but Milo and Ann are causing riots and making the Republican Party look bad.”
Campus senior Fabiola Martinez added that she believes the change in the campus’s decision shows an indifference towards marginalized groups on campus who are affected by Coulter’s words.
In a letter sent Friday to chief campus counsel and associate general counsel Christopher Patti, Dhillon said if campus administrators do not finalize the venue and time of Coulter’s speech for April 27, BCR will file their lawsuit “shortly.”
“I don’t think they stand a chance. They couldn’t get a court order at any reasonable time before April 27,” said Jesse Choper, campus professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Law, about the potential lawsuit. “I challenge someone to come up with the answer to that question — to permit her to talk at the time and place that she wants (while) avoiding personal injury and property damage to the campus.”
ASUC Senator-elect Rizza Estacio said it was an “awful idea” for the campus to reinvite Ann Coulter to speak to students, emphasizing the line between the campus’s duty to uphold free speech and its obligation to disallow hate speech.
Estacio added that she felt that Coulter, a best-selling author, already has access to a public platform, stating that it was unnecessary for the campus to be “uplifting that rhetoric” and “giving her that pedestal.”
“I can’t predict what Ann Coulter is going to say, but she’s said before … multiple things (that were) extremely hateful in terms of diminishing entire existences,” Estacio said. “That propagates more harm than a protester breaking a window. … When someone is using their words to propagate hate speech and diminish their identity, that is violent.”
Estacio said she would not attend the Coulter event because she feels that by being in the room, she would be showing support for Coulter’s ideas.
Campus senior Michelle Flores said she plans on attending the event, but in protest of Coulter’s speech.
“I hope this (speech) doesn’t happen or else (administration) will see us on the streets of Berkeley protesting and speaking against them, even though they’re trying to silence us,” Flores said. “It’s different when the speaker disrespects the existence of other people.”
Contact Jessíca Jiménez and Bobby Lee at [email protected].