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Berkeley Talks: Free speech on campus in times of great division

"I think we should charge toward the conversations in these hard times, precisely because there are opportunities to learn so much," said Berkeley Journalism Dean Geeta Anand, who joined a panel of scholars in conversation on Jan. 10.

Follow Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. See all Berkeley Talks.

Two students hold an Israel flag and two students hold up a Palestinian flag standing next to one another on the Berkeley campus with at least one hundred students on Sproul Plaza in the background
A protest at UC Berkeley in October 2023.

Kefr4000 via Wikimedia Commons

In Berkeley Talks episode 188, a panel of scholars discusses free speech on university campuses — where things stand today, what obligation campus leaders have to respond to conflicts involving speech and the need for students to feel safe when expressing their own views.

“Issues of free speech on campus have been there as long as there have been universities,” began Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky at a UC Berkeley event on Jan. 10. “There’s no doubt that since Oct. 7, universities across the country, including here at Berkeley, face enormously difficult issues with regard to freedom of speech.”

“Especially in these times where, and especially with this (Israel-Hamas) war, where people are feeling so hurt by words, and arguing that words or phrases mean you’re antisemitic or Islamophobic, it’s really challenging,” said Berkeley Journalism Dean Geeta Anand. “The temptation when people are so hurt and in so much pain is to run from it.

“But in fact, I think we should do the exact opposite. … At times, those are the moments where people will actually want to learn, and need to learn, and listen.

“So I think we should charge toward the conversations in these hard times, precisely because there are opportunities to learn so much. Because … when people make this demand or that demand, they’re often expressing a need to be heard and a need to have a voice in what’s happening.”

Panelists in this discussion included:

  • Geeta Anand, dean of Berkeley Journalism
  • Emerson Sykes, senior staff attorney, ACLU; adjunct professor, NYU School of Law
  • Howard Gillman, chancellor and professor of law, UC Irvine
  • Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law (moderator)

This discussion is part of the Berkeley Law Conversations series. Watch a video of the conversation and learn more about the speakers on Berkeley Law’s website.