Campus & community, Campus news, Events at Berkeley

Affirmation rally for diversity, equity and inclusion fills Sproul Plaza

Faculty advisers assured students and others Thursday of UC Berkeley's commitment to safeguard the university's values in the face of fears unleashed by the 2016 election

Rucker Johnson, associate professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy (UC Berkeley photo by Hulda Nelson)

More than a dozen professors rallied Thursday to assure students, staff and other faculty members of UC Berkeley’s unwavering commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and its promise to provide allies, advocates and spaces for people of color, women, undocumented students as well as ethnic, religious and other minorities who have expressed concerns about the future following the election of Donald Trump.

The professors, most of whom serve as equity advisers for their academic departments, spoke to a cheering, overflow crowd on Sproul Plaza and urged listeners to remain active in demanding and promoting social justice long after Election Day. Several of those who spoke acknowledged their own immigrant roots, or belonging to one of the wide range of groups that have felt placed repeatedly in the crosshairs of criticism, contempt and retribution by a vitriolic Trump campaign.

Mary Wildermuth, an equity adviser and professor of microbiology, said the assembly was hastily pulled together in response to concerns rippling across campus.

“We are here because of you, and we are here for you,” Jim Porter, a professor of rhetoric, told students. (Story continues below.)

The rally started with a handful of participants on the steps of Sproul Hall and over the course of a little more than an hour filled Sproul Plaza, with onlookers peering from the balcony of the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union. The mood was emotional but upbeat, as professors from departments ranging from political science and ethnic studies to the School of Information and art practice lent their voices to the rally for diversity, equity and inclusion,

“It is so important that we not be frightened, that we not be divided,” said philosophy professor John Campbell, a self-described immigrant from the United Kingdom.

But Nikki Jones, an associate professor of African American Studies, told listeners it was okay for many populations to be angry in the wake of the election, and recommended tapping the emotion to fuel change.

“You have a right to be angry…” she said. “Use that anger. Do not let anyone shame you for being angry.”

Cristina Mora, an assistant professor of sociology, shared her appreciation of student concerns, recalling her own student days at UC Berkeley, when she too searched for safe and nurturing campus spaces — such as Sproul Plaza — where as a first-time college student from an immigrant family she could feel that she belonged.

“We can be bystanders or we can be up-standers,” said adviser and professor Rucker Johnson of the Goldman School of Public Policy, referring to the GSPP motto of speaking truth to power. “There’s a reason why we (UC Berkeley) are No. 1,” he added.

Isha Ray, a professor of energy and natural resources, raised the issue of climate change, which Trump has disputed and called a hoax by the Chinese.

“We care about the climate on our campus, and we care about the climate on our planet,” she said, calling for all to adhere of standards of decency and compassion that often seemed missing during the 2016 campaign.

“All of our struggles are we,” said Hertha Sweet Wong, a professor of English who described herself as a first-generation student and academic with a mixed European-American and Native American background, as well as the mother of four adopted children from around the world.

“You are beautiful,” said Martha Olney, a lecturer in economics in greeting the crowd. “Today is good again, because you are all here.” She acknowledge the challenges presented by the presidential race, and for all those living out their own truths.

“Viva UC Berkeley,” said Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, a professor of psychology, to a roar of applause.