Dealing with hate speech and the chaos that ensues afterward has become an unfortunate cornerstone of the UC Berkeley student experience. And Nov. 20 was further proof of just that, with protesters and police all colliding outside Wheeler Hall.
We have spent years pondering whether hate speech is protected under the First Amendment or whether the campus can legally shut down events like this. But bringing white supremacists, xenophobes and fascists to campus is bad, and allocating campus resources to seemingly uplift their narrative is even worse.
Time and time again, the campus has chosen to go out of its way to seemingly protect conservative provocateurs. Each time, student life halts in order to allow an off-campus entity to spew hatred that deeply impacts and incites violence toward our campus community. Our classes are canceled, student events are postponed, buildings are closed down and highly militarized police, often from departments across the state, are deployed not only on campus but all around the city — just to accommodate, what for many, constitutes hate speech.
A certain level of hypocrisy arises with the UC going to the Supreme Court to fight for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, while allowing an event called “Adios, America!” to occur on campus. UC Berkeley administrators paradoxically pressure student organizations to cancel events like those with Democratic presidential candidates in fear of these events seeming like a campus endorsement. They, however, allow events featuring conservative speakers to continue because student organizations “speak for themselves and do not represent the views of the campus administration,” which is frustrating. The campus needs to take note of these discrepancies and make some changes:
- Revise the Major Events Policy with the help of students
According to its principles of community, UC Berkeley aims to “affirm the dignity of all individuals and strive to uphold a just community in which discrimination and hate are not tolerated.” It is time for a major events policy that upholds these principles of community in a consistent manner. In order to create an institution in which all students can safely learn and thrive, the campus cannot allow events like this to continue happening. Furthermore, it is unacceptable that the security costs of major events, especially ones involving controversial rhetoric, are covered by the campus, and therefore, by students. With an ongoing housing crisis, basic needs insecurity and underfunded student-initiated outreach programs, there are better ways to be using the (at least) $50,000 that went toward security for the events Nov. 20. In fact, it is imperative that the campus administration holds a town hall in the coming weeks to start a dialogue with students about how the campus deals with hate speech — it would be unreasonable for the campus to move on from this without checking in with actual stakeholders.
- No more militarized police presence
Last week, the campus deployed police officers from every single UC system campus except UC Santa Cruz to “protect” the event at Wheeler Hall. Over the years, students, especially Black students and Brown students, have stated that police presence does not make us feel safe; in fact, it does quite the opposite. Seeing militarized police with weapons taller than me does not make me feel safe. Seeing more police than students on campus does not make me feel safe. Seeing police dragging protesters out of the crowd does not make me feel safe. Seeing barricades blocking buildings does not make me feel safe. It makes me feel like I’m in a war zone. There are ways to ensure student safety, and a militarized police presence is not one of those ways. In fact, if it seems like a militarized police presence is necessary to protect an event, maybe we should rethink why we are even allowing the event to happen in the first place.
- Provide more student resources
If these events are to continue, it is absolutely necessary that the administration notifies student leaders ahead of time and provides alternative spaces for students during the time of the event. Last week, a coalition of student organizations, including Cal Berkeley Democrats, the Muslim Student Association, the Student Environmental Resource Center, the Middle Eastern and North African Recruitment and Retention Center and more took it upon themselves to hastily plan programming and alternative safety measures for students that would be affected by the presence of Ann Coulter on campus. The campus should be providing resources in the form of funding, space and wellness programming if it allows a self-identified “right-wing polemicist” like Coulter to speak on campus. The campus should also be actively supporting and meeting with the organizations that are actually advocating for marginalized groups.
Events that espouse hate speech are difficult for everyone involved. In times like this, students need to support each other in order to push forward equitable, needed change. There were a couple hundred protesters outside Wheeler Hall on Nov. 20, but we need those same people to check in with the communities they claim to protect. We need that same energy when fighting for resources and space for students of color and LGBTQ+ students. We need that same energy as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 and the University Council-American Federation of Teachers continue bargaining for a fair contract. We need that same energy to uplift the narratives of students on this campus that are so often erased. Organizing should not and will not stop on Nov. 20.
This awful cycle has become absolutely exhausting. It is time for UC Berkeley to prioritize students and their safety by breaking the cycle and standing united against hate.
Sarah Abdeshahian is the president of Cal Berkeley Democrats.