Student coalition asks Dirks for safer campus for debate

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian students asked Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to facilitate a safe environment to debate and fairly represent their opinions during a fireside chat Monday evening.

Dirks invited members of groups in the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSA, to speak about their experiences and voice concerns regarding recent campus debates. This is Dirks’ sixth fireside chat of the academic year, which are organized to allow students to inform him about important issues from sustainability to challenges faced by the undocumented community.

Students raised concerns that their opinions were disregarded simply due to their background and called for the administration to facilitate a “civil dialogue” between groups with different views.

Recalling the controversy during a campus debate on divesting funds from Israeli-affiliated companies in protest of the Israeli government’s alleged human rights violations in Palestine, some students criticized how the administration handled the situation and called for a better “institutional response” in the future.

Kamyar Jarahzadeh, a member of UC Berkeley’s Iranian Students Cultural Organization, added that day-to-day interaction with students caused fewer concerns for the MEMSA community than the response from the administration regarding contentious issues and events on campus.

“What collectively brings us together is when we see a condemnation from the university on some kind of climate issue that doesn’t speak to how the Muslim students feel when things get negative on campus,” Jarahzadeh said. “It’s on the institutional level that we really want to see some changes.”

Additionally, junior Christina Mehranbod, liaison for Middle Eastern students in the Multicultural Student Development offices – which she noted currently do not have resources specifically for Middle Eastern or South Asian students –  voiced concerns about being grouped in an “invisible category.”

Students also brought up the need for a safe meditation space on campus. Students wishing to pray or meditate can use California Conference Room in Hearst Gym, previously a multipurpose room for many campus organizations. However, this space is closed by 6 p.m. and difficult to reach from certain parts of campus, students said.

In general, the attendees said they appreciated the opportunity to share their opinions with the chancellor.

“It was productive to help balance the scales of access to the people leading the university,” Jarahzadeh said. “There are a lot of problems that can’t be addressed in a few minutes, but one of the biggest things that this chat helped do is level the playing field for groups … that don’t have the kind of same resources as other groups to communicate with the leadership of the university.”

Somin Park is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @_sominpark.