Campus & community, Campus news

Chancellor Carol Christ: Reaffirming our community

By Public Affairs

Chancellor Carol Christ sent the following message to the Berkeley campus community Friday morning.

I write to you today as Chancellor, and as a member of this community who loves and treasures everything Berkeley is and stands for. I have been deeply connected to this campus for more than 50 years and rarely, if ever, have I been more concerned about our ability to abide by and sustain our foundational Principles of Community.

These principles enable us to balance the inherent tensions between free speech and diversity of perspectives on the one hand and, on the other, our ability to have a strong community that provides a true sense of belonging and safety to its members, regardless of their identities or beliefs.

Absent that balance, I fear for our future.

Of immediate concern is the ongoing impact of the conflict and violence in Gaza and Israel on our community. For those with connections to the conflicts, these have been incredibly dark and difficult days. Yet, we all have a stake in how we respond to this crisis. This is a time when we, as a campus and as individuals, must support and protect our friends, colleagues and peers whose lives and well-being have been affected. This is also a time when our values are being tested in ways that will surely arise again around other divisive issues.

I have been deeply disturbed and saddened by the many messages I have received from students who have opposing views about the conflict, and similar fears for their safety and well-being on our campus — fears largely borne of condemnable, toxic expression that is particularly rife on social media, and has no place on our campus or in our discourse.

I am dismayed by and condemn the harassment, threats, and doxxing that have targeted our Palestinian students and their supporters. I reject the equating of support for the Palestinian people or their statehood with support for terrorism. Additionally, the conflation of Palestinian identity with Muslim religion has led to an alarming increase in reports of Islamophobic incidents. While we have little if any practical ability to stop the publication of student photos and personal information, we will continue to speak out against those actions, and we will continue to express our opposition to any effort to dissuade employers from hiring students based solely on their political beliefs, origins or identities. I urge members of these communities to report any and all incidents of alleged harassment or discrimination to our Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, including allegations of online misconduct by members of the university community.

There has also been an alarming increase in antisemitic expression in our country, in general, and on our college campuses, in particular. Our university condemns antisemitic expression in its every form, and we are committed to addressing it when it occurs and responding when it is reported. I am appalled by and condemn any condoning of or making excuses for terrorism, by stereotyping, threats, and the repetition of false, damaging tropes about the Jewish people. I reject calls for Israel’s elimination. If you believe you have been subjected to or witnessed antisemitic harassment or discrimination, I urge you to report any and all incidents of alleged harassment or discrimination to our Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, including allegations of online misconduct by members of the university community.

The messages I have received also indicate that fear is being generated by the rhetoric used at some of the recent demonstrations on our campus, and we have received demands that the university cancel or shut them down. Our commitment to free speech at Berkeley is long-lived and unwavering, and whether we like it or not, nearly all speech is generally protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Our inability to censor protected expression does not mean it is condoned. If you wish to learn more about free speech and expression that is not protected by the Constitution, please visit our Free Speech webpage. You may report expressions you believe violate our policies to our Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination.

I ask and urge that we contemplate the price we pay — and what is achieved for the causes we believe in — when hate and animus are transferred to and expressed in our community. It will take all of us to protect and defend the essential values that allow a higher education community to thrive; to make our campus a place where all feel a true sense of safety and belonging, and to advance our common cause of making the world a better place.

For the sake of our community, our campus, and the world around us, please join me in reaffirming the value, relevance and necessity of our Principles of Community.