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].