2 departments’ commencement speakers withdraw, citing union strike boycott

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In the wake of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ withdrawal from speaking at UC Berkeley’s commencement Saturday, two other speakers followed suit, citing support for the UC-wide union workers’ strike.

Attorneys and activists Saru Jayaraman and Angela Glover Blackwell were slated to speak at the College of Natural Resources, or CNR, and Goldman School of Public Policy, of GSPP, graduation ceremonies, respectively. Both speakers declined to deliver speeches in tribute to the UC speaker boycott requested by union workers.

Jayaraman is the director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley. Additionally, she co-founded the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, or ROC United, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to aid workers from the World Trade Center who were left jobless. ROC United currently deals with protecting workers’ rights and has been instrumental in helping low-wage workers receive fair compensation.

CNR spokesperson Lynn Huntsinger confirmed in an email that Jayaraman withdrew in honor of the speaker boycott.

“She is a lifelong organizer and advocate for workers throughout the food system,” Huntsinger said in an email. “We hope she will be able to speak at our College another time, as we have great respect for her work.”

Blackwell co-founded PolicyLink — a nonprofit organization that focuses on policies improving access to opportunities for low-income communities — in 1999, and she currently serves as its CEO. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Howard University, then went on to study law at UC Berkeley. Blackwell was a partner at Public Advocates, a law firm specializing in public interest, from 1977 to 1987, and she has written books on poverty in the United States.

GSPP dean Henry Brady confirmed in an email Friday that Blackwell chose to observe the speaker boycott called for by union workers, adding that GSPP believed it would be “fruitless” to find an alternative speaker for the event. The GSPP commencement address went ahead without a keynote speaker.

Several other spring 2018 commencement ceremonies have proceeded or are scheduled to proceed without any change in speakers, including the ceremonies at the College of Engineering, the School of Public Health, the College of Chemistry and the School of Social Welfare.

Revati Thatte is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.