Chancellor Carol Christ spoke at an event Thursday evening hosted by the Berkeley Forum, a nonpartisan campus student organization, to reemphasize the campus’s commitment to free speech.
About 250 students, faculty and community members attended the talk, titled “Free Speech and Community.” After Christ gave her opening remarks, she engaged in a Q&A session with the forum’s head moderator Shaina Zuber, and she also answered questions from the audience.
“More speech, I think, is the most important counter to hateful speech. Counter their arguments — show how wrong and bigoted … they are,” Christ said to the audience. “Invite your own speakers.”
Christ’s Berkeley Forum talk comes about a week after she sent out a campuswide email confirming that conservative writers Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos had both been invited by student groups to speak on campus in September. Christ has also called the 2017-18 academic year a “free speech year” on multiple occasions.
At the forum event, Christ stressed free speech as a constitutional guarantee and explained exceptions to that guarantee as outlined by the law. So long as speakers do not violate these exceptions by using speech that presents “an immediate threat” or is “pervasive” enough to create “an intimidating, hostile or demeaning atmosphere” towards an individual — groups are not included in this legal exception — they will be allowed to speak, Christ said.
The chancellor also said she believes free speech is fundamental to democracy and cited the civil rights movement and anti-war activism as examples of when free speech served as the foundation of broader social movements.
Christ rejected platform denial, which she defined as prohibiting invited speakers to voice their opinions, because she said it leads to giving “odious speakers more recognition than they deserve.” She explicitly denounced speech against marginalized groups because she believes it violates the values of the UC Berkeley campus.
During the audience Q&A session, Raphael Kadaris, a member of Refuse Fascism, asked Christ how she was able to abstract free speech from power relations evident in society. In response, Christ referenced John Stuart Mill’s philosophy behind free speech — which emphasizes that censorship compromises the truth — but she also added that she believes the narrative of the far-left “colludes” with the narrative of the far-right.
Sufia Siddiqui, a UC Berkeley alumna and Berkeley resident who attended the event, said recent experiences with “confrontations” in the city have left her wary of using her voice as a Muslim. In addition, Siddiqui asked Christ if the campus and the community are the only ones paying for the heightened security measures during events featuring controversial speakers, to which Christ replied yes.
Nihal Singh, a conservative UC Berkeley alumnus, said he appreciated the chancellor’s commitment to holding violent individuals accountable. According to Singh, free speech means the ability to have “open and fearless dialogue” in order to “arrive at the truth of the matter.”
“We are in a critical moment in Berkeley history where the right is attempting to hijack our core values,” Christ said to the crowd. “We need to reclaim these values and reclaim our right to free speech.”