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The counterargument to Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley

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JANUARY 27, 2017

On Thursday, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks released a statement to the UC Berkeley community discussing the “tension between rights and values,” articulating that while the administration may not condone Milo Yiannopoulos’s words and actions, they will not be shutting down the event.

Chancellor Dirks chose to use the language of “tolerance,” suggesting that Milo Yiannopoulos’s presence at UC Berkeley is an act of tolerance — that allowing Yiannopoulos to carry on his “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” which has incited violence, hateful rhetoric, white supremacy, transphobia and misogyny, is a defense of Berkeley’s history of tolerance and a fight for the freedom of speech. Mr. Chancellor, we strongly disagree.

We, as a community, cannot label this as “tolerance” or “academic freedom.” To do so is to say that we tolerate the message Mr. Yiannopoulos, and others of his “ilk” as you so rightly called them, are espousing. Tolerance, as advocacy and freedom, is not meant to be boundless. As with all freedoms, there are both responsibilities and limits. Here, too, we must clearly define those responsibilities and draw those limits: Tolerance ends where harm begins.

To the Chancellor, to those of Berkeley College Republicans who continue to defend this event (which we are sure not all members do) and to others in this community that support the event still being held:

Perhaps from your position of privilege, you have been unable to hear the voices of members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, imploring you to intervene on their behalf. Perhaps, from your position of privilege, you cannot see, first-hand, the impact that hate speech and an environment of intimidation can have on those who are vulnerable — those occupying more precarious social positions — than you. Perhaps, from your position of privilege, you can see these things, but choose to look away.

However, we do not have this privilege, and neither do the various groups which Yiannopoulos’s words, actions and those motivated by him attack. The fact that you have failed to affirmatively intervene on behalf of myself and students like me, that you have allowed this affront to our core values as a community to escalate unchecked right up to the very point that it threatens to impact you, stain your image, threaten your well-being and endanger your ability to work productively in this community, all while turning a blind eye to the harm that has been and continues to be done to this campus, is frankly morally repugnant.

In your letter, you state that “the anticipated cost of … additional preparations and measures will be borne entirely by the campus” and are expected to “far exceed the basic security costs that are the responsibility of the hosting organization,” going on to assert that you will “not stand idly by while laws or university policies are violated,” implying that you will hold student protesters, rather than the BCR, accountable for the consequences of an event that is being hosted beyond their control.  In so doing, you imply that the targets of hate speech will be the ones who must shoulder the burden and consequences of student resistance to hate speech that has a direct and destructive impact on the health and well-being of vulnerable members of this community. This is victim-blaming, plain and simple. It is an intolerable and unconscionable re-victimization of an already vulnerable community.

This is not a conversation about academic freedom. Indeed, it is not even a conversation about free speech. It is a conversation about safety and equitable access. As faculty across this campus have brought to your attention, the actions that Yiannopoulos incites at his events are not only harmful and dangerous, they also constitute harassment which violates Title IX protections to the provision of an environment that is free of sex- and gender-based harassment. This is a conversation about our values. The email sent to the university yesterday suggests that we share similar values, but having these shared values is not enough. Your thinly veiled reference to the political climate we are now entering suggests you understand this. This very climate demands we not only have these values, but that we act visibly, and stand up vehemently for these values. And quite frankly, given this campus’s rich history of LGBTQ+ individuals and mobilization, we will not stand for anything less.

Luis Tenorio and Miranda Smith are members of the Graduate Assembly. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter

JANUARY 28, 2017