Campus leaders address Farrakhan visit

Editor’s note: Campus leaders released the following statement today (Sunday, March 11) regarding this weekend’s Afrikan Black Coalition conference that included Minister Louis Farrakhan as a keynote speaker.

Hundreds of African American students from colleges and universities across California attended the Afrikan Black Coalition conference this weekend. The conference theme “Accepting the Torch: Reigniting the Flame” was designed to call the group to rally around a sense of self-determination, economic empowerment, and reconnecting with their community. We are proud that Berkeley’s Black Student Union hosted the ABC conference for the first time here.

While we understood the students’ inclination to hear from speakers who speak about the need for Black self-reliance, Farrakhan also greatly offends many within our community. He is well known for his frequent derogatory and divisive statements, including those that are anti-Semitic, homophobic, and misogynist.

We are very pleased that the student groups worked together and engaged in productive dialogues about free speech and the issues students face from a number of perspectives. This is the positive outcome of free speech and what UC Berkeley can be proud of in our long history. The ASUC leadership wrote eloquently about the problem with the Farrakhan event while also noting the positive aspects of the conference. We strongly endorse their statement ( http://www.dailycal.org/2012/03/06/no-patience-for-intolerance/ ).

While the principle of free speech is important, the choice of the weekend’s speaker was in direct opposition to the principles of community and inclusion that we have consistently articulated for the campus.

The Principles of Community … require a consciousness of the potential effect of words or deeds on others: a positive intent not to hurt, offend, or denigrate others… It is the community who must hold each other accountable for behaviors that do not reflect our communal values… Forbearance and consciousness of how one’s actions may affect others should always be a strong consideration… Freedom of speech is not properly exercised without taking responsibility for its impact. Taking that responsibility does not negate the freedom, it brings an enhanced humanity to it.”

We hope, as before, that this experience, while hurtful to some, proved to be educational for the whole campus. It has certainly highlighted the need for the work we are doing on climate and inclusion with our students, and we look forward to continuing it with them. This once more has illustrated what happens when the principles of community are ignored; we trust that everyone will use these principles more effectively in the future as a guide when making decisions that could negatively affect our campus climate.

Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor

Gibor Basri, Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion

Harry LeGrande, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs