In light of the scheduled talks by conservative commentators Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos, Chancellor Carol Christ said the best way to combat ideas you disagree with is to debate them. In support of this idea, she quotes John Stuart Mill who said, “Truth is of such power that it will always ultimately prevail.”
However, it is both unfair and unproductive to expect students to debate with someone about their right to exist. Moreover, Chancellor Christ stated that 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.” Yet the campus administration has created no new resources for students to deal with increasing threats on campus, instead only encouraging students to use existing mental health resources and centers. Worse, both of the centers recommended by the administration — the Multicultural Community Center and the Gender Equity Resource Center — were rendered inaccessible during the Shapiro talk because of building closures meant to ensure that the event ran smoothly.
Chancellor Christ also vaguely describes planned book talks, panels and discussions about free speech and divergent opinions. The faculty panel on free speech that she moderated was held in Dwinelle Hall in a room with a capacity of about 200, which pales in comparison with the 2,000-person capacity of Zellerbach Hall where Ben Shapiro spoke, giving proponents of hate speech a larger platform to present their ideas.
These steps are not enough to fulfill her promise to “provide safety and security for (campus) community and guests” and maintain our campus principles to “strive to uphold a just community in which discrimination and hate are not tolerated.” On the contrary, the university has put forward a massive effort, including extra security and closing six buildings to ensure that discrimination and hate are heard in one of the largest auditoriums on campus without providing adequate resources and support for those targeted by this event.
Chancellor Christ believes that even though some may find these views “abhorrent” and “deeply hurtful” to particular communities on campus, they must be presented. But these “abhorrent” ideas are not simply words that fall limply into the air. These words have implications. We are increasingly seeing these horrible sentiments regurgitated back to us in policy decisions by our federal government, policy decisions that attack the rights of the most vulnerable members of the campus community.
Shapiro and Yiannopoulos have repeatedly framed Muslims as dangerous people. President Donald Trump successfully banned people from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Yiannopoulos stated that he believes rape culture does not exist on college campuses. Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos announced a plan to review sexual assault policy on college campuses. Shapiro has said that being transgender is a mental illness, and Yiannopoulos has publicly humiliated transgender people. Trump has taken steps to implement a discriminatory policy, banning transgender people from serving in the military. Last time Yiannopoulos tried to speak on the UC Berkeley campus, he planned to expose undocumented students. On Sept. 5, Trump took away protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for undocumented individuals who came to the United States as children.
Because of the connections between such right-wing commenters and our federal government, these hateful ideas echo policy decisions that take away rights from people in the UC Berkeley community. To the general public, giving speakers like Yiannopoulos and Shapiro a space to speak on campus gives them validity on par with the renowned academics and scientists our campus invites to speak. To the students targeted, it sends an unwelcoming and hostile message.
If Chancellor Christ is to live up to her commitment to UC Berkeley and “provide safety and security for its community,” she must plan events that reaffirm and fight for justice for our Muslim, LGBTQ+, undocumented students and students of color. These events must not be held in Dwinelle at short notice; they must be front and center on campus in the largest auditoriums with the utmost faculty and administrative support.
If Chancellor Christ truly wants to protect students, the centers that support vulnerable student communities cannot be closed during inflammatory events. Instead, these centers must be given bigger spaces and more resources to help students deal with the threats they face every day from new policy changes and the damaging events held on campus. She must take a strong stance against white supremacy, transphobia and Islamophobia by uplifting the students fighting against these evils and preventing the “alt-right” from using the campus to gain more power and legitimacy.
Samantha Klein is a UC Berkeley alumnus.