Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

A time to reflect and move forward together

By Carol Christ

The past several weeks have been trying ones for Berkeley.

In demonstrating our firm commitment to the free speech protections of the First Amendment, this week we have seen speakers come to campus who brought with them ideas that run counter to our Principles of Community and to our belief in the fundamental value of every individual in our institution.

To provide the security necessary to protect the community, we have had to close buildings, relocate students and workers, bring to campus a police presence that some find intimidating, and spend money that we would have much rather put toward our academic and research mission.

In the midst of all of this, we have also seen messages of hate written in chalk on campus, posters attacking students and professors, targeted harassment via social media, physical confrontations, and other acts destructive both to individuals and to the kind of inclusive community we so strongly seek to cultivate at Berkeley.

I recognize, and deeply regret, the harmful effects that these incidents have had on students, staff and faculty. I condemn in the strongest terms those who challenged the identities of our community members and who, in a cowardly way, called out or attacked individuals on posters or online. For many who were not directly targeted, I know that these events and the campus response affected your ability to study, work, attend class, participate in activities and more – and I am sorry for that disruption.

Berkeley today faces unprecedented pressures that all of us – students, staff, faculty, administrators – must do our best to understand and to navigate. Universities like ours have been targeted by outside groups to serve as the symbolic stage for intentionally provocative performances and political rallies. In an era of political division, we greatly need reasoned discourse, yet too often we hear inflammatory language, and see violence as a response. Many in our community are troubled by the growing tension between the protections guaranteed to free speech under the constitution and their sense of social justice. These weighty issues present formidable challenges for Berkeley and its community.

We have much to learn from the events of the last few weeks. I am appointing a commission whose membership will include multiple stakeholders—students, faculty, staff, administrators – to study this complex set of issues and propose solutions. To be clear, we will never restrict speakers based on their viewpoint, and student organizations will continue to be permitted to invite speakers of their choosing to the campus. Policy changes will be made narrowly, only in service of minimizing cost and disruption.

I would like to again thank the entire community for your patience and understanding as we work to uphold dual commitments to free speech and to ensuring that Berkeley is a place where people from all backgrounds feel safe, welcome and supported. I would like to extend particular thanks to the many individuals within the divisions of student affairs, equity and inclusion, public affairs, legal affairs, and UCPD, who put in so many extra hours to serve the campus over the last few weeks. I am grateful for all of your efforts as we continue to shepherd Berkeley through a difficult – but important – chapter in our campus’s long history.