Campus community must think beyond ‘Free Speech Week’ to understand speech and its effects

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As feminist scholars, we in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies have much to contribute to discussions of the politics of free expression, but, alongside the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, we think it is unfortunate that Milo Yiannopoulos’s manipulative framing of “free speech” has been accepted without criticism and circulated as a way to name the rise of white-nationalist recruitment on U.S. college campuses. Thus we are especially troubled that, in a quixotic defense of decontextualized “free speech” as an absolute, the campus administration has chosen to place its students, staff, workers and faculty, as well as its infrastructure, reputation, financial stability and the city that surrounds it, at near-certain risk of harm.

Given the risks of violence, we question the administration’s decision not to take advantage of reasonable measures to manage the time, place, and manner of the speakers coming to campus. We more generally question why the administration has worked so assiduously to compromise our campus Principles of Community, including the commitment to “the dignity of all individuals” and “strive to uphold a just community in which discrimination and hate are not tolerated,” by accommodating a group of speakers notorious for their inflammatory rhetoric and by doing nothing for the communities directly affected. There is no special relationship between a college and this brand of “free speech”; to the contrary, the speakers’ claims are contradicted by decades of research in gender and women’s studies and adjacent fields.

Because of our areas of research and teaching — the imbrication of gender, sexuality, race, class, nation, colonialism, disability and more within densely interlocking systems that turn difference into injustice — and the composition of our student, staff, worker and faculty population, we are in continuous contact with the ways in which structural misogyny, coloniality, racism and class actually operate. We are acutely aware that the defense of certain rights over others can often be traced to the unequal access to levers of power, including the power to be heard. The targets of the upcoming polemics — feminists, Muslims, people of color, LGBTIQ+ individuals, students protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, people with disabilities, immigrants — are people whose vulnerability is reflected in the need for specific protections in civil rights legislation.

Hate crimes against people in these categories have been rising, and the impact on our campus is not a future hypothetical; indeed along with the pace of hostile attention to this university, we as a community have already — and predictably — experienced doxxing, being followed, being harassed while teaching in our classrooms and verbal violence on this campus in the light of day. We have received little, if any, campus aid, or even response. This is a moment for us all to think deeply and creatively about how structures of inequality in our society affect the ways that an absolutist construction of the right to free speech has disparate effects and is, moreover, not equally accessible to all. It is also a moment for us to ask how, as a campus, we can produce a space that enables speech across differential power and privilege, and thus support a truly educational environment, not just a space where the best funded speech dominates.

The department of gender and women’s studies addresses these topics in our research and our teaching, and we invite the UC Berkeley community to attend our classes and take part in our department’s schedule of activities. Our classes focus on identifying processes of categorization and distinction, taking gender as a central, but neither defining nor homogeneous, organizing principle. In living counterexample to the speech currently invading our campus, feminist scholarship is not a practice of exclusion or blame but a multidimensional exercise in critical inquiry. Our department’s commitment to diffusing power, empowering the disempowered and transforming subordinating institutions and discourses is more essential than ever. As we look forward, beyond the week of Sept. 24th, we invite everyone to think about what scholarship and thoughtful, informed inquiry can teach us about freedom of expression, practices of silencing and, ultimately, the hope and possibility for justice.

Paola Bacchetta, Barbara Barnes, Mel Chen, Minoo Moallem, Laura C. Nelson, Leslie Salzinger, Charis Thompson and Minh-Ha Trinh are faculty members of UC Berkeley’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies.

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  • jim hoch

    Are they banning rap music?

  • Peter Wde

    “As feminist scholars…”

    Oxymoron alert!

  • Nunya Beeswax

    TIL that academics with doctorates don’t understand constitutional law.

  • SMH

    ……..

    MILO YIANNOPOULOS HAS MADE A **FOOL** OF THE UC BERKELEY CHANCELLOR & THE ENTIRE UNIVERSITY IN THE UNIVERSITY’S SPENDING OF **$800,000** TO **$1,000,000** FOR MILO’S 20 MINUTE PHOTO-OP & AUTOGRAPH SESSION.

    BUT IT *DOES* SHOW THAT THE CHANCELLOR CAN COME UP WITH SUCH MONEY WHEN THE CHANCELLOR *WANTS* TO DO SO — MONEY THAT COULD GO TO ETHNIC STUDIES & OTHER DIVERSITY *ENRICHMENT* EDUCATIONAL / ACADEMIC PROGRAMS, INSTEAD OF EDUCATIONAL / ACADEMIC CUTS OR SHORTCOMINGS.

    ……..

    • SMH

      ……..

      And, actually, the TV news said it was only 15 minutes!

      $800,000/15minutes = over **$53,000** per **minute**!!

      $1,000,000/15 minute = almost **$67,000** per **minute**!!

      ……..

  • Hate speech is violence. It needs to be banned on campus.

    • Tim

      Poe’s law is in effect

    • FreedomFan

      Your comment offends me. You must be punished by the authorities.

  • 安德森保罗克文

    Return to the quarter system to diversify the undergraduate in-class experience. (More exposure to more areas of knowledge. More diversely qualified faculty.) A diversified education will build a diversified student body. The difference in the administrative overhead is minimal since it is computerized.

  • Killer Marmot

    Thus we are especially troubled that, in a quixotic defense of decontextualized “free speech” as an absolute

    Translation: We believe in contextualized free speech — that is, free speech for certain specific view points.

    Meta-translation: We don’t believe in free speech.

    • alwaysthink

      You need to learn why yelling “fire” in a theater is not protected Free Speech, but a crime!

      • Bob

        And you need to learn the definition of dictum. Justice Holmes included the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” example as dictum in Schenck v. U.S., not as part of his ruling. And that decision was later overturned (partially) by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio, which limited the scope of banned speech to that intended to incite “imminent lawless action,” such as a riot.

      • Killer Marmot

        There are legal restrictions on speech, but they are narrowly defined — basically anything that could reasonably lead to direct and palpable harm. None of the invited speakers cross that line.

  • James Anderson Merritt

    “Verbal violence”? When I was growing up, we were taught to use our words and not our fists, precisely because words were NOT violence. People have been saying mean, nasty, hateful things to and about each other for millennia. Yet, when it came time to write the First Amendment, and in parents’ minds for generations before and after, free speech was declared a good thing, and words were not viewed as equal to any true form of violence. So what changed in the past few decades, such that some are redrawing the line to now include words?

    • Tim

      When you don’t have any valid points, you embellish the ones you do have.

  • Bob

    As feminist “scholars”, we in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies have much to contribute to discussions of the politics of free expression…

    …the speakers’ claims are contradicted by decades of “research” in gender and women’s studies and adjacent fields.

    Thank you for the best belly laugh I’ve had in ages. That you believe feminist studies is both scholarly and relevant to the real world (where facts DO matter) makes me cringe with embarrassment for the authors and the entire WGS department. You are Marxist ideologues, nothing more.

    • s randall

      I’m sure you have an enormous belly.

      • SecludedCompoundTTYS

        good one! ROFTLOL!!!!

      • lspanker

        I’m sure you have no reply of substance.

        • s randall

          You’re no Bob.

          • Bob

            No exactly sure why, but this made me laugh.

      • Bob

        It’s enormous but that’s not my belly. ;-)

  • lspanker

    The faculty members of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies are hysterical of losing their PC veto power over people who call out their propagandistic garbage for what it’s worth…

    • SecludedCompoundTTYS

      They should have stuck with second wave feminism that actually made sense and didn’t batter every white male but that wouldn’t let them talk about themselves enough…

  • roccolore

    Typical feminazi cowards.

  • JB

    Just remember we pay these people out of our taxes. And this is what we get? No wonder the cost of education has gotten so high. One can only hope that their courses will never be required for scholastically speaking they are worthless.

  • s randall

    The Administration had no choice. That is unfortunately the new reality. Trump pulls the strings on DACA, on Title IX, and he’s pulling the strings on Free Speech too. They want violent confrontation. We can give them what they want, or we can be smart.

    • Tim

      Do people like you even realize how delusional you are?

      • s randall

        Are you “lspanker” posting under a different handle? I’m going by the similar vacuous style.

    • Killer Marmot

      Free speech is what one does in lieu of violence. When you limit speech, you force people to use other means to make their point.

  • SecludedCompoundTTYS

    Wow, let me guess. The writer of this has never worked outside of education. The problem is you are saying I’m racist by stating my opinion that is logical that many have, that Black culture is a big problem for the black community (i.e. child fatherless statistics). So if you call that hate speech then what am I suppose to do? So no one can speak their mind that disagrees on this extremely complex topic? So naive and shows how this department is just out of touch with reality third wave feminists that push more women away from the cause.

    • s randall

      I’m sure you are more cogent when you try to write like a racist. Sounding educated isn’t your strong suit.

      • SecludedCompoundTTYS

        lol, do you not feel stupid when you call everyone a racist all the time for no reason. Do you have any common sense? You have completely trivialized the word “racist” because you are full on Mr. Political Dunning Kruger.

        • s randall

          There you go again. Quit when you’re ahead.

          • SecludedCompoundTTYS

            Not sure what you’re talking about, but it doesn’t matter to me if you call me a racist because its not hate speech. It’s just your stupid words you write or say. You have no facts/history about anything except a weird distorted view/version of it. Lets debate one topic on facts?! Maybe I can get ahead again!

          • s randall

            Hint: Try to write like “lspanker.” He doesn’t try to seem intelligent.

          • SecludedCompoundTTYS

            OH so you can’t debate a single thing, typical. Good job

          • s randall

            QED.

          • lspanker

            Funny how the snarky little child who can’t ever address the SPECIFICS of a given subject tries to insult the intelligence of others when he can’t back up his position.

          • s randall

            You don’t.

    • 3823

      Hi Secluded, I have a question directly for you, since you opine so frequently about issues of race and sometimes bring up your own race, I would imagine, to boost your credibility on such matters. On these pages you have, at various times, described yourself as “white,” “half-Mexican but [you] look white,” and on at least two occasions (when afforded the opportunity to suggest that LGBT folks are sniveling whiners, and again when afforded the opportunity to make sweeping generalizations about Islam) have stated that you are “black.” Now, I accept that race is a complex social construction, and that perhaps all of your statements are simultaneously true. Can you state definitively that all representations you have made about your own background on this site are truthful?

      • 3823

        No, you cannot.

  • Bob Bell

    All speech is free, but some speech is freer than others.