Campus must prioritize safety of marginalized over free speech

Xinyu Li/Senior Staff

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Free speech is not dead. It was never alive.

I am over the debate on this campus between UC Berkeley conservatives and those on the left who still have energy to argue. Free speech has always been a tactic used by the state to grant the illusion that all voices in this nation are valued, yet there is a reason why Black female senators are discredited and why there is a white supremacist in the Oval Office.

Somewhere in all our political discourse, we lost the point. We forgot that the people, the victims, the survivors of state violence we casually discuss are people living the experiences we have the privilege of discussing from a theoretical, omniscient perspective.

I want to say that I do not feel safe on this campus. Living on the streets for six years did not prepare me for the violence of UC Berkeley. But if the violence is real, then our conversations need to be real too we cannot let free speech become a tactic that asks oppressed people to tolerate their oppressors in hopes of peaceful compromise.

On the morning students woke up to Sproul Plaza flooded with fully armed police officers last Thursday, I was shocked and traumatized. I wondered how the UC could come to the conclusion that filling Sproul Plaza with men and guns made anyone feel safe. Walking through Sproul reminded me of every bad encounter I’ve had with police. It reminded me off the afternoons I visited my parents in jail. It gave me the same stomach aches of wondering where my sister’s children were within the foster care system. Having the state use intimidation strategies on our campus assured me that my existence and trauma are not priorities in decision-making.

The intergenerational trauma that marginalized students hold on campus has sculpted a particular relationship with power dynamics that must not be ignored. This reality, however, was overlooked when the administration failed to understand that this day would be retraumatizing for Black and brown students who are still unpacking a lifetime of state violence?

I guess I am just at the point where I’ve studied the genocide of my people and am tired of living it today. I do not understand how we can fill the streets demanding justice and then magically separate ourselves from the movement to protect conservative voices who want a soapbox and our death certificates. Am I missing something? If leftists have enough emotional capacity to balance the internal debate of fighting for the oppressed while also protecting the speech of the oppressors, more power to them (literally).

I’m not here for free speech. I’m here for Black lives. I’m here for undocumented lives, queer and trans lives, femme lives, incarcerated lives and poor lives. I am here for the lives Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter want dead. I am here for the lives Donald Trump wants to ban. I am here for the lives BCR cannot fit in their “socially moderate, fiscally conservative” fantasy.

What this university needs to recognize is the disgusting irony of pouring thousands of dollars into the recruitment of oppressed people and then failing to protect us once we are here.

With the federal administration’s legislative attacks on vulnerable communities through bans, walls and funding withdrawals, we are at a time where we have a decision in terms of liberation: Are we committed to our peer’s survival, or are we keeping our heads down and continuing the pursuit of a degree? Are we willing to confront our oppressors head on, or do we want to play respectability politics and support university actions that disregard communities?

The concepts that America is great because of our ability to share perspectives and differing opinions, that UC Berkeley is beautiful because we can discuss and organize with opposite sides of the political spectrum … are bullshit. This has done nothing more than maintain the white supremacist, capitalistic and patriarchal nature that allowed colonizers to protect their power centuries ago and that has allowed their descendants to elect an openly racist, queerphobic, Islamophobic/xenophobic and anti-poverty adminstration.

But I am tired. I am tired and I am scared that my life expectancy as a brown trans femme really is only 35 years old. With or without a UC Berkeley-sealed diploma, I know I can be killed for walking down the street in a dress.

As long as this is our reality, my focus will be on the survival of my people. And as long as the University of California refuses to fully dedicate itself to the liberation of the oppressed students on their diversity brochures, I will not rest, will not be silenced, will not put down my lighter fuel.

I dare you debate the lives I am trying to protect. After all, I am sure the administration and UCPD will protect you before they protect me.

Juniperangelica is a third-year transfer student studying political science and ethnic studies. She is an incoming ASUC Senator and lead organizer with the Transgender Law Center.

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