It’s been almost a year since violent riots broke out over a planned speech by Milo Yiannopoulos on Feb. 1, 2017. Since then, the Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR, have hosted Ben Shapiro, and it took the excellent work of the Berkeley Police Department to keep things orderly. This year, BCR will continue to bring conservative speakers to campus. We are not trying to create unrest, but unrest will not stop us. Our work to bring conservative speakers is not borne out of some desire to inflame controversy. The truth is, Berkeley is supposed to be an arena of ideas, and we think conservative ideas should be considered — not suppressed.
We have declared that 2018 will be our “#YearOfFreedom,” and we plan to bring several other great conservative speakers to Berkeley. We have been demonized for bringing such speakers, but this is precisely why it is so important that we do so: Diversity of thought is endangered at Berkeley.
Berkeley takes pride in its diversity. UC Berkeley has a vice chancellor with an entire staff and a great amount of resources dedicated to promoting diversity. Their website states that they provide “leadership, accountability & inspiration to the UC Berkeley campus in integrating equity, inclusion, and diversity into all aspects of university life.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t always seem as if the admirable inclusion is always extended to campus conservatives.
Consider this: After the Shapiro event, the Division of Equity & Inclusion posted a statement on their website titled “Taking Back Our First Amendment.” In the statement, they claim to “stand resolutely against the white supremacist agenda and the use of hate speech of all kinds. (They) call out purveyors of hate and bigotry who harass, target, and stalk others. (They) oppose the defacement of our campus with slogans and symbols that are in stark contrast to the values we hold.” The problem with this statement is that not one thing in Shapiro’s speech nor in any of his writings (nor in any of the values embraced by BCR) supports any bigotry or white supremacy. In this case, the only hate was directed at conservatives, by an arm of the university, for openly expressing political ideas.
This vitriol applied to us and our speakers (regardless of who they are) does a huge disservice to the campus political climate. Instead of encouraging those with different viewpoints to come debate us in a civil context, we are instead written off as irredeemable racists who want nothing more than to return the United States to the era of Jim Crow. While some members of the campus community do approach us and respectfully debate, there are still others who think that it is acceptable to spit at us, steal our promotional materials, openly threaten us and engage in violent destruction on our campus, simply because they disagree with our ideas. The admirable mission for diversity at UC Berkeley can do better and should do better.
The need to do a better job of embracing diversity of thought is clear. UC Berkeley is an echo chamber. This was displayed during the last presidential election. The vast majority of the UC Berkeley campus populace was shocked; they had no idea how this could have happened. Simply put, Berkeley is out of touch with a big part of America.
BCR would like to change that. We want people at UC Berkeley to consider conservative ideas. We want the students, faculty and staff to be exposed to these views that are not in line with the campus majority view. We want an honest and open debate of ideas.
When Shapiro spoke at UC Berkeley, liberal and left-leaning students had the opportunity to ask questions and challenge his ideas. This is the ultimate goal when BCR host speakers. We want great ideas challenged using logic and facts. The best ideas for a society will always be discovered by open discussion and debate. We want that. It should be part of a healthy campus environment.
Dennis Prager is coming to Berkeley on Feb. 1. We sincerely hope that there is no violence and no riots. If you don’t want to hear what Prager says, do not come. If you want to challenge Prager’s thinking, you will have the chance to do so during the presentation, and we encourage you to attend. If you disagree with what he says and want to protest, please do, but don’t let Feb. 1, 2018 be a repeat of Feb. 1, 2017.
Matt Ronnau is a UC Berkeley student and the internal vice president of the Berkeley College Republicans.