After reading Carla Hesse’s op-ed, things are now crystal clear for our campus: Nothing will really change. The campus’s primary interest is its image and reputation for financial and fundraising purposes.
To frame the repeated and pervasive cases of sexual violence against women as a tension between “freedom” and “respect” is mind-blowing. We are sick of the liberal narrative still taught in middle school that American democracy is about ensuring our “individual freedom,” which we must protect without trampling on someone else’s freedom. Instead of “freedom” and “respect,” some of us are waiting to not only hear words but also see clear actions that prioritize principles such as “equality,” “solidarity” and even “liberation.”
The purely discursive logic of “freedom” and “respect” is flawed, empty and abstract. History shows it. Our everyday experience shows it. For many of us, growing up, coming to UC Berkeley and becoming thinking political subjects meant learning to understand that the liberal narrative engages a problematic framing built around violent lies: Our “American Democracy” has been founded on the institutional oppression and political silencing of women, the land dispossession and genocide of native peoples, a widespread system of anti-Black chattel slavery, the massive importation and deportation of an immigrant workforce (be it Chinese, Mexican or other Global South refugees) and the exploitation of all working people, like us, excluded from any real political voice. The “individual freedoms” of these people was and is never or rarely respected, because class, race and gender relations of exploitation and domination reveal that “freedom” and “respect” are experienced as very different things for different political subjects.
Further, it has become clear that the administration does not treat all cases of sexual violence equally: When the perpetrator is a senior manager or a well-established senate faculty member, the main concern is their (his) reputation and career. But if a custodial worker or a lecturer were to engage in similar conduct, they (he) would have been fired. Class, i.e. the fact of being in a subordinate labor position with poor pay and no real job security, is a primary factor in these decisions. And it is also clear that when a student, graduate or undergraduate, or a worker comes out and speaks publicly about sexual violence, in particular about their (her) manager or adviser, the administration will work to silence their (her) voice.
Racial, classed and gendered relations intersect. They define not only the conditions of our exploitation and oppression, but also the path for our liberation. Those of us who are in subordinate positions, who make the university work, who are so often the survivors of sexual violence need to believe that we have the power to end it, not the administration. We are the only ones that do because of the social relations that constitute us and that we in turn constitute. The top 1 percent of our campus has demonstrated that they will not and perhaps cannot do this for us. Their daily experience of what it means to work here and their interests in securing private funding for our “public” university are absolutely disconnected from and counterposed to our experiences and needs. This is why we need to organize in our unions and student groups, create spaces for survivors to come forward on their own terms, build our own groups to debate and implement policies, show our solidarity through action against all forms of violence, demand that the administrators punish and fire oppressors and make the administrators’ management routine very difficult until the rights and demands of all survivors of gender-, race- and class-based violence are honored.