Chancellor Carol Christ releases statement about negative comments directed at Chinese American faculty

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Chancellor Carol Christ released a statement in a campuswide email Wednesday drawing attention to recent reports of negative comments directed at Chinese American faculty and researchers connected to Chinese companies and institutions.

Her email, titled “Reaffirming our support for Berkeley’s international community,” addressed how the comments — which also targeted faculty of Iranian American descent or those with ties to the Middle East — violated UC Berkeley’s Principles of Community.

Campus spokesperson Michael Dirda said in an email that the incident that prompted the email involved faculty from the College of Engineering.

“While comments that were made in that instance do not rise to the level of discrimination, the language used was alienating to the faculty member,” Dirda said in an email.

According to Vice Chancellor for Research Randy Katz, the situation involved a faculty member who felt uncomfortable after comments were made that they felt were directed at their ethnicity, in a joking manner. Katz said he would describe the commentary as “insensitive as opposed to intended to harm.”

Christ also addressed in the email how the use of language in this way has a long history in California and can be much more harmful than it may seem, which was expanded on by Ling-chi Wang, a campus professor emeritus in Asian American and Asian diaspora studies.

Wang explained how “anti-Chinese prejudice actually permeates the whole U.S., from the time of George Washington all the way to the present day” and may contribute to incidents such as this one. He also elaborated on the important role that UC Berkeley’s campus has for this population.

“Berkeley holds a very special place in the minds of Chinese Americans because while all the other universities were denying admission to them (during the Cold War), Berkeley never closed its doors,” Wang said.

ASUC President Alexander Wilfert and ASUC Senator James Li noted in an email the “discomfort, tension, and a general lack of safety” felt by Asian and Middle Eastern student communities. They also requested that the administration take active steps to support international students.

“While our national climate becomes more divisive, we in Berkeley need to foster a more cohesive, supportive environment for Chinese and International students,” Wilfert and Li said in the email.

To address these concerns, Tsu-Jae King Liu, the campus Dean and Roy W. Carlson professor of engineering, has organized a special workshop to “inform people vulnerable to racial profiling due to their Chinese ethnic background.”

The workshop will educate participants about the laws and current developments facing Chinese immigrants and Chinese American scientists and researchers, and it is tentatively scheduled for March 26, according to Liu.

“We live in an international community — our scholars, our students, our faculty are from many corners of the world, and we should be sensitive and embrace that community,” Katz said.

Contact Marlena Tavernier-Fine at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MarlenaTF_DC ‏.