A Letter to the UC Berkeley Chancellor, asking for debate, community and respect.

This letter was handed in person to the UC Berkeley Chancellor (Carol T. Christ) on Tuesday September 19th 2017. There had been several violent and racist attacks at UC Berkeley, and a lot of contention without dialogue, compassion and dialogue. The school was lacking critical thought and thinking and was mired in debate, without listening. We wanted our leadership to step up and create a safe space for listening and dialogue to all voices.

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Tuesday September 19th 2017

Dear Chancellor,

We would like to thank you for all the incredible work you have done so far in our community. It’s refreshing to have someone like you communicating with us with such honesty and kindness with what we are currently facing around the country. UC Berkeley has the opportunity to lead the country in the creation of safe spaces for discussion, inclusive of all spaces and points of view. So far, UC Berkeley hasn’t taken this leadership forward, being re-active rather than pro-active to recent events on our campus.

Below we offer six suggestions to foster constructive campus community and dialogue. Conflict, we think, is essential for growth and learning and we should foster constructive discussion so we can all learn, challenge our assumptions, and grow as a community:

  1. Monthly UC Berkeley town halls around topics related to justice, race and good living: Once a month UC Berkeley staff could organize a town hall where students could come and listen to each other’s diverse viewpoints about societal change, debate, and share ideas about how to move forward (or backward). A professor or school counselor could moderate the discussion, and volunteers could take notes. The debate/discussion could be YouTubed or streamed so that an audience around the country can chime in. We should set an example that UC Berkeley cherishes and values all view points, and fosters an inclusive space for discussion.
  2. A bi-weekly two-column “debate” on the UC Berkeley Newspaper: UC Berkeley could announce a list of topics for all weeks in the semester that are open for debate. Then, it would send a request for proposals (100 words max) for two people (or two groups) with opposing viewpoints to each write a column on the selected topic. After being published on paper, the column could be posted online to foster more debate online (moderating for hate speech). Later, this online discussion could be brought to a town hall if there was enough material and interest.
  3. De-scalate contentious speakers: Contentious speakers that come to UC Berkeley (regardless of their political leanings) should have their points of view respectfully challenged. UC Berkeley staff could ask for questions ahead of time and make sure that the speaker sets aside some time to answer difficult questions. We could all learn from having our viewpoints challenged constructively.
  4. Reflection day at UC Berkeley: We, as a community, have not come together to process the events around the country. There are academic lectures and discussions, but no soul searching. A reflection day at UC Berkeley would involve breakout panels to process feelings in the morning, engage in lively structured debates on contentious topic and opportunities in the afternoon, and opportunities for conviviality in the evening where people with disjointed points of view could get to know each other as human beings. The media could be invited to such an event, where UC Berkeley can demonstrate the values of what it truly stands for.
  5. Space for peaceful gatherings at UC Berkeley: Cordoning the campus to create a safe space for one particular group of people is demoralizing and restrictive. When a contentious speaker arrives, UC students should be allowed to peacefully gather in public spaces as long as they can show their student ID to police or administrative staff that is guarding the cordoned area. Just as speakers have a right to express themselves, we as students have the right to peacefully gather on our campus. Making preparations and space for peaceful gatherings is a powerful message of respect towards others, and to free speech.
  6. Symbols Matter: To avoid racist graffiti on campus, UC Berkeley can use symbols as preemptive tactic. Putting banners across campus highlighting the importance of diversity and inclusion to Berkeley sends a message of what we stand for, even if every once in a while our walls are painted with Hate.