Students hold town hall, consider protesting Bill Maher

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On Thursday evening, more than 60 students and alumni gathered at a town hall meeting to discuss the selection of TV personality Bill Maher as the December graduation speaker.

Students raised issue with what they considered a lack of transparency by the administration to involve students in the process of selecting a graduation speaker, later discussing actions they intend to take in the upcoming weeks.

The town hall comes in the wake of controversy after a campus statement released Wednesday saying the administration would move forward with the invitation despite a vote by the Californians, the student group that invites such speakers, to rescind Maher’s invitation. The student group voted overwhelmingly on the issue earlier this week after the circulation of an online petition — which has since garnered more than 4,500 signatures — that protests the selection.

“Student voices aren’t being reflected at all — from the beginning of the process and now, they’re being fully thrown out the window,” said ASUC Senator Madison Gordon. “What we have learned from this is that the administration choosing the commencement speaker … doesn’t resonate with all students.”

The Californians, a student leadership organization, chose Maher in August. Some students have criticized choosing Maher due to his controversial statements on religion — in one of his shows, Maher compared Islam to a mafia. At the town hall, attendees discussed how to increase awareness.

Students agreed to prioritize outreach on social media and to student groups, faculty, alumni and external organizations.

“This is not an issue of Bill Maher — it’s an issue of administration and of campus climate,” said third year Nisa Dang, referring to how the campus pulled its support of the Californians “the second the students decided not to support (the campus).”

In its statement, the campus said the recent events demonstrate the need to “develop a new policy for managing commencement ceremonies.”

Emphasizing that this was an issue that affects all students and not just the Muslim or Arab community, ASUC Senator Marium Navid — who is backed by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition — urged everyone to reach out to their communities.

Kerby Lynch, ASUC commissioner of diversity affairs, said they see this as an opportunity for Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to become a part of the community.

“At some point, Dirks has to come out of California Hall and directly respond to students on these issues,” Lynch said, calling the chancellor’s office’s choice to communicate on the issue via email inappropriate.

There were also discussions of protesting before and on the day of the commencement ceremony.

Maher is expected to address the issue on his HBO show, “Real Time With Bill Maher,” on Friday, which airs at 7 p.m.

Contact Heyun Jeong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @heyunjeong.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article included a quote from Madison Gordon that may have implied that no student voices had been involved in the process of selecting a commencement speaker. In fact, some students were involved in the process of choosing the speaker.