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Letter to Chancellor Christ regarding Free Speech events

This letter to Chancellor Christ regarding Free Speech events was written by  chairs of Ethnic Studies, African American Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies.

Office of the Chancellor
University of California, Berkeley
200 California Hall

Berkeley, CA 94720-1500Dear Chancellor Christ,We write with dismay to inform you that the Annual Distinguished Lecture in Anthropology, scheduled for September 25, has been cancelled because it coincides with Milo Yiannopoulos’ performance on our campus. This talk was scheduled many months in advance and was to be held at the Morrison Library. The library administration contacted the Department at the end of August to suggest that the talk be rescheduled due to safety concerns around Milo Yiannopoulos’ presence on campus, and the Department has rescheduled the talk for November. We are thankful that the speaker, one of the foremost thinkers in our field, has graciously rearranged her schedule for this last-minute change, allowing the established academic institution of the annual lecture to continue, but it means that she will no longer be able to meet with UC Berkeley graduate students before her talk as she had originally planned to do.While we understand the library administration’s concern for the safety and security of people on campus, we are deeply troubled by the fact that the university is willing to prioritize a vitriolic white supremacist speaker, who seeks to disrupt academic life through his performance, over and above a renowned scholar and thinker committed to thoughtful scholarly engagement. If this “Year of Free Speech” is about giving an equal platform to all speakers, it would seem that it has already failed. Hate speech has taken precedence over academic discourse. This is perhaps appropriate for a concert venue but not, we maintain, for a university. We note that Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos stated, in a recent e-mail regarding Ben Shapiro’s campus visit, that “our commitment to the principles of community mandates that all students, faculty, and staff be able to be present on campus, engaging in their regular academic activities without fear.” Our regular academic activities have been curtailed to accommodate Milo Yiannopoulos, and thus the university administration has not honored its own stated commitment to the principles of community.

We offer this as a stark reminder of what precisely is at stake in vague and abstract claims of “free speech.” What is at stake is the very value of the scholarly discourse we offer to our students and to the world. Last semester it became quite clear that the university administration prioritizes “free speech” ideals in the most general terms over the physical bodies and livelihoods of our students. This semester, at a moment of unprecedented vulnerability for our undocumented students, Yiannopoulos is again being offered a platform and a microphone for his vitriolic hate speech that not only denigrates these students but jeopardizes their very existence in this campus community, in this nation, and on this earth. Before his planned speech last year, Yiannopoulos announced that he would divulge the names of undocumented students, knowing full well that this would put them in danger of personal attacks and deportation. During other campus visits he has directly bullied and threatened individual students; in the case of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, a student was forced to leave the university due to the persistent and egregious harassment she suffered following Yiannopoulos’ targeting of her during his performance.

It is this brand of hateful speech and the noxious actions it gives rise to that are currently being prioritized over dialogue and debate with an invited scholar who had planned to visit our campus to discuss her work. We urge you to think very carefully about the lives you are risking in giving white supremacists an even larger platform than they already have. We also urge you to consider that, in giving this platform so freely to white supremacists, you take it away from those who engage in thoughtful, compassionate, and respectful scholarly discourse by actively threatening the spaces available to them for such engagements.


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