Carol Christ doubles down on commitment to free speech: ‘It is who we are’

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Audrey Mcnamara /File

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In light of recent free speech-related controversies at UC Berkeley, Chancellor Carol Christ has reiterated the campus’s commitment to free expression and confirmed that controversial conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos has been invited to return to campus next month.

Christ sent a campuswide email Wednesday morning in which she confirmed that both conservative writer Ben Shapiro and Yiannopoulos have been invited by student groups to speak on campus in September. Christ, who has called this academic year a “free speech year” on multiple occasions, stated that denying certain speakers from campus would be providing students with a “less valuable education” and that the campus should show students that they can choose what to listen to and that that they can form their own arguments.

“Berkeley, as you know, is the home of the Free Speech Movement, where students on the right and students on the left united to fight for the right to advocate political views on campus,” Christ said in her email. “Particularly now, it is critical that the Berkeley community come together once again to protect this right.  It is who we are.”

Christ added in her email that BridgeUSA and the Berkeley Center for New Media will hold a conference Oct. 5, and she also mentioned plans for a series of events in which people holding “sharply divergent points of view” will participate in moderated debates. Such sharply divergent ideas, Christ stated, are key to the campus’s mission and democracy.

Yiannopoulos was previously scheduled to speak on campus Feb. 1, but the event was abruptly canceled because of the aggressive protest that erupted on Sproul Plaza, resulting in a campuswide lockdown. A few months later, Yiannopoulos announced on his Facebook page that he intended to return to UC Berkeley later this year for “Milo’s Free Speech Week,” during which he would hold talks, rallies and parties in the name of the First Amendment.

“The university has the responsibility to provide safety and security for its community and guests, and we will invest the necessary resources to achieve that goal,” Christ said in her email. “If you choose to protest, do so peacefully.  That is your right, and we will defend it with vigor.  We will not tolerate violence, and we will hold anyone accountable who engages in it.”

Christ’s earlier statements calling this year a “free speech year” for campus and introducing plans for multiplatform debates were widely criticized, with critics calling her statement tone-deaf and insensitive to groups that could potentially be targeted by hate speech.

In her email, Christ acknowledged that defending the right of free speech for those we disagree with can be difficult, but she encouraged the campus community to not resort to “the heckler’s veto” and try to silence them.

“Call toxic speech out for what it is, don’t shout it down, for in shouting it down, you collude in the narrative that universities are not open to all speech,” Christ said in her email. “Respond to hate speech with more speech.”

Contact Chantelle Lee and Ashley Wong at [email protected].

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  • Bobby Barrett

    If Berkeley really wants to support free speech, first it needs to reform its leftist teachers and leftist course curriculum, and then it needs to expel violent students. Some speech about free speech or a website does not fix anything and is in fact public posturing only

  • FreedomFan

    Thank you, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ. The last chancellor was a disaster.

  • Anonymous

    Milo is literally threatening to “bring an army” on his public Facebook and you call that protected free speech? Are you kidding me?

    • FreedomFan

      Yes. Find out the meaning of the first amendment, comrade.

      • Anonymous

        The First Amendment does not allow for incitement of violence against the public. That is not protected speech.

        • hamaca

          Let’s rewind time a few months when Milo first came to speak at Berkeley. Which side engaged in actual violence? And which side was just there to speak? Before we explore “could”, “maybe”, “possibly”, “perhaps” lead to violent thoughts, let’s address actual physical violence on the part of those actually doing it.

          Kudos to Chancellor Christ for taking a stand.

          • Giorgios Anapoulos

            You are right, although please be fair to the vast majority of protestors, who were students exercising their 1st amendment rights peacefully. The Black bloc/antifa people came from Oakland and other areas surrounding campus — some may have been UCB alumni, no one knows for certain admittedly, but they caused more than $100,000 in damages to the student union. Maybe some UCB students are crazy enough to want to destroy their own student union, but it seems more likely to me that the vast majority of violence was engaged in by outsiders. That being said, people at UCB probably were not as quick to condemn said violence as they should have been.

        • Bobby Barrett

          You are funny, anonymous. Demonstrable is too big a word for you. You can’t even demonstrate courage to publish your name to stand behind your own opinion.

  • Anonymous

    My critiques are being suppressed. This article, and the comments supporting Christ in this discussion, is propaganda.

    • Anonymous

      If “free speech” is what we are, then why are my comments critiquing Christ’s lack of understanding of the impacts of hate speech on the physical brain being suppressed?

  • Anonymous

    My critiques are still being marked as spam.

    Here is my critique, in other words.

    Carol Christ is minimizing the real psychological impacts of speech. Speech, toxic speech that targets underprivileged individuals, can create physical harm to the brain. Patients who are exposed to toxic speech are more likely to develop depression and anxiety, and there is damage to the brain connection between the left and right brain, among other physical harm to the brain. This is based on research from Martin Teicher, Harvard Medical.

    • Anonymous

      I had to HEAVILY edit my response down for this to escape from being marked as spam. Talk about free speech. Does the university have no shame?

  • s randall

    Christ doesn’t really have a say in this. If a campus group want to invite a speaker, the campus has to accommodate the request. So in the case of Shapiro and Yiannopoulos it is actually members of the “Cal Family” that are inviting these people in. People that want to treat this as some sort of territorial issue are misguided.

    I think the biggest difference between a speaker and a “demonstration” is that UC Berkeley will be responsible for the “security” of a speaker. If it’s a speaker, the speaker doesn’t get to demand his or her own security people. The UCPD has every right to keep weapons and violence off campus. Easier said than done, but it does reduce the scope somewhat.

  • Anonymous

    Hmm…my comment was marked as spam. Are your moderators restricting my free speech?

    • FreedomFan

      Not much fun, is it?

  • Anonymous

    My comment was marked as spam. Are you restricting my free speech?

  • Anonymous

    My comment was marked as spam. Are you seriously restricting my free speech?

  • Anonymous

    “Call toxic speech out for what it is, don’t shout it down, for in shouting it down, you collude in the narrative that universities are not open to all speech,” Christ said in her email. “Respond to hate speech with more speech.”

    This does not collude with the science in psychology and social psychology. Hate speech physically damages the brain. People who are exposed to hateful, hostile environments caused by toxic speech had higher levels of anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, dissociation, and drug abuse than others in the study, and underdeveloped connections between the left and right brains. (Martin Teicher, Harvard Medical)

    For some, this means that it is harder for them to speak up. They can’t defend themselves orally, because the hostile environment (which UC Berkeley is these days) really does damage their brains. This “fight speech with more speech” rhetoric is almost barbaric and provides literal to know inspiration to comfort and promote feelings of safety. It hearkens back to the same arguments made regarding “if someone hits you, hit them back.”

    Additionally, you are doing very little to deescalate the situation by continuing to encourage toxic speech without moderation. You should actually say something with content, otherwise you are letting down many of the marginalized voices who are truly underprivileged and targeted by Yiannopoulos’ hate speech. This is seriously the same ilk of defensive speech as Trump’s response to Charlottesville. It says nothing. It’s leadership that puts the burden all on the shoulders of its students.

  • NaphiSoc

    Is she bonkers?
    Berkeley has a tradition of repelling Fascists
    We do NOT want their presence
    This will ONLY end in violence – this is dumb

    We MUST #FreeCalifornia from the American occupation to not catch the Fascist disease running writ large in US sans California

    to learn more visit CalFreeCo.Org and Fight for nationhood
    Go Bears!

    • Nunya Beeswax

      Apparently you think fascism is so attractive that it’s practically irresistible. That explains why you seem to feel that we should use totalitarian means to discourage people from espousing it.

    • Kristen Reck Schulte

      I’d say the only people who want California free from the American occupation are extremists.

      Yours truly,
      A California resident who loves America.

    • jsjca

      The way to respond to hateful and bigoted speech is with more speech to refute it. When you suppress hateful/bigoted speech, it merely goes underground where it festers and grows uncontested. Bring it into the open, challenge it, and reveal its fallacies.

      The alt-right has irrational ideas which lack knowledge in science, history, philosophy, etc. One reason is the alt-right members seem to merely talk to each other which only reinforces their baseless, unfounded ideas. Bring them into the public forum and test them with solid debate.

      As much as I detest hate speech, I fear censorship more. Who decides what speech is acceptable? Historically, this kind of suppression has been dominated by the extreme right. Better to stay with the First Amendment and the rationale for its protections.

      • Dave Doleshal

        Yes, I think this is the case.

      • hamaca

        After all, do some folks really want Trump in charge of censoring speech?

    • FreedomFan

      Fascists were book-burners and censors of free speech.
      You are in good company, komrade.

    • Bobby Barrett

      But you are the fascist as it is evident in your own words above: “this (presence of these speakers) will ONLY end in violence”

  • Dave Doleshal

    I do still think letting Milo and associates speak IS the correct approach to the problem. Trying to deny these folks the right to express their opinions does not solve anything, does not stop them from expressing their opinions, and only adds credibility to their portrayal of themselves as oppressed victims. As events of the last week or two have demonstrated, by simply letting them show their true colors, this is NOT really doing the alt.right cause any good. Revealing their true colors only makes it more clear to all they are NOT anything like the “true champions of good ole traditional American values” they like to portray themselves as being, but are simply racist, fascist, sexist, hateful, bigoted – and sometimes dangerous. By “speaking freely,” they seem to only be managing to alienate themselves further from the rest of America. Even their former supporters in the “respectable conservative” groups are now embarrassed to be associated with them, and thus are actively trying to distance themselves from these alt.right people. Best to let this process continue. Instead of continuing to allow them to be wolves in sheep’s clothing, much better for them to be revealed as wolves in wolves’ clothing.

    • Kristen Reck Schulte

      Actually you could say the same as the alt-left. When many of them speak I’m sure “respectable liberals” are embarrassed to associate with them. You can literally sub alt-left everywhere you put alt-right.

      And Milo isn’t alt-right. He’s a free speecher and that’s what he’s been fighting for.

      And before you call me a racist Nazi for believing in free speech, save your keystrokes. Free speech doesn’t equal hate speech. The chancellor was right in everything she said.

      And I’m a Libertarian.

      • Dave Doleshal

        I would agree that the same applies to the “alt.left” as well, at least for all of the ones who are advocating violence, using violence, or praising violence when used by others. Same applies to everyone who resorts to violence to press their political views, regardless of what label they travel under.

    • Bobby Barrett

      Milo and others referenced have often explicitly said that the sun is the best disinfectant, let all speak and have all ideas exposed, may the best idea win.

      You sound like a brainwashed leftist and you might not even know it.

      Here is why:

      Milo & company do not represent themselves as oppressed / victims. That’s leftist mentality.

      You cannot put all speakers invited, in the same basket. Alt right or else. Group identity instead of individual ideology is leftist mentality.

      The fact that you believe Milo is alt right or that most of these speakers spew hate speech, racism and sexism, indicates you do not read them or listen to them first hand, but only second hand, in order to form your personal opinion, which is also leftist behaviour.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    “Call toxic speech out for what it is, don’t shout it down, for in
    shouting it down, you collude in the narrative that universities are not
    open to all speech.”

    I don’t know why this isn’t blindingly obvious to the social-justice types.

    • StanFromSomewhere

      The social-justice types were never the best and brightest.

    • CSears

      Yiannopoulos’ toxic speech is what it is.
      Protesters speech is what it is.
      Dunno why that isn’t blindingly obvious to the fascist types.

      • FreedomFan

        Protest all you want, but don’t trample other citizens’ right to speak as well.
        Pretty obvious to any American.

        • CSears

          James Fields trampled on other citizens’ rights. I don’t think you people even know what freedom means.

      • lspanker

        No speech is as “toxic” as an environment where people are beat up for not conforming to your point of view.