Berkeley faculty ready to boycott the alt-right

September 20, 2017

Administrators at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley have said that they will allow much of the alt-right's planned four-day hate-fest--given the sickening name of "Free Speech Week"--to go forward on September 24 despite its organizers missing multiple deadlines, violating rules and costing the school untold sums of money.

Sponsored by the College Republicans and Berkeley Patriot, next week's carnival of reaction will be arranged around daily themes, including "Islamic Peace and Tolerance," featuring Islamophobic racists like Pamela Geller and David Horowitz and Blackwater/Academi mercenary Erik Prince; and "Mario Savio Is Dead," with Ann Coulter, disgraced former White House strategist Steve Bannon and self-described "American nationalist" Mike Cernovich.

The fact that the organizers of "Free Speech Week" missed multiple deadlines to submit contracts for venues and insurance and that most of the supposed speakers have failed to confirm with the university that they will be speaking led many to wonder if "Free Speech Week." would fold. But UC officials announced they would break their own regulations, allowing a number of the planned events to go forward.

In response to this provocation, nearly 200 UC Berkeley professors and graduate students announce plans for an all-campus boycott during the four days of the right's hate-fest--an action designed to defend their students, colleagues and community in the face of the right's provocation. Below, we reprint the faculty's letter to the campus community announcing the boycott, along with its initial signers. If you are a UC Berkeley faculty member or graduate student and would like to add your name, go to this link.

On Monday, students, workers and members of the community at UC Berkeley and beyond will gather for a "Berkeley Rally Against White Supremacy," called in solidarity with the faculty boycott, starting at noon on the Crescent Lawn at Oxford Street and Addison Street.

WHILE THERE has still not been an official announcement from campus administrators, we are learning that from September 24-27, the University of California at Berkeley will provide a platform to Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Stephen K. Bannon, Breitbart Media and their far-right audience. A series of explicitly violent alt-right, militia and pro-fascist events are also, again, being scheduled for Civic Center/Martin Luther King Jr. Park in downtown Berkeley on those days.

Once more, signs point towards an escalated and uncontrollable confrontation both on and off campus during these four days. The history of these events has been chilling. Since Inauguration Day, alt-right followers have shot someone at the University of Washington, stabbed two people to death on public transport in Portland, stabbed to death a college senior in Maryland, beaten numerous nonviolent protesters at the University of Virginia, and, most recently, murdered a peaceful protester with an automobile in Charlottesville. Most immediately troubling, given Trump's decision to end [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA], is that these forces have publicly expressed their intent to specifically target "sanctuary campuses" and disclose the identity of undocumented students. As concerned faculty members, we cannot remain silent while students, staff, colleagues, and fellow community members are threatened.

Demonstrators hit the streets of Berkeley to protest the far right
Demonstrators hit the streets of Berkeley to protest the far right (Thomas Hawk | flickr)

Therefore, as faculty committed to the safety of our students and our campus, we are calling for a complete boycott of all classes and campus activities while these alt-right events are taking place at the very center of UC Berkeley's campus. As faculty we cannot ask students and staff to choose between risking their physical and mental safety in order to attend class or come to work in an environment of harassment, intimidation, violence, and militarized policing. The reality is that particularly vulnerable populations (DACA students, non-white, gender queer, Muslims, disabled, feminists, and others) have already been harmed, and are reporting increased levels of fear and anxiety about the upcoming events, the increased police presence on our campus, and how all this will impact their lives and their studies.

It is not just physical violence that our campus faces from this media circus. Many of these provocateurs' most committed audiences are online, and the Breitbart media machine uses that audience to harass, cyberbully, and threaten anyone who speaks out against them. Students and faculty on our campus have already had their lives threatened for speaking out against Milo and his followers. Online threats are real threats, and if we allow this intolerant and bullying version of free speech to take over our campus, then it can only but come at the expense of the free speech rights of the Berkeley community as a whole. In fact, campus safety concerns have already forced the Anthropology Department to cancel a public talk during "Free Speech Week." This makes clear that the administration understands the imminent threat to campus safety while also revealing that the loud demands of the alt-right has the effect of silencing members of our campus community.

What you can do

If you are a UC Berkeley faculty member or graduate student and would like to add your name to the call for a boycott, visit this link.

In solidarity with the faculty's campus boycott, a coalition of student groups, unions and other organizations is calling a "Berkeley Rally Against White Supremacy" for Monday, September 25, at 12 noon on the Crescent Lawn at Oxford Street and Addison Street.

We recognize that as a public institution, we are legally bound by the Constitution to allow all viewpoints on campus. However, there are forms of speech that are not protected under the First Amendment. These include speech that presents imminent physical danger and speech that disrupts the university's mission to educate. Milo, Coulter and Bannon do not come to educate; they and their followers come to humiliate and incite. If the administration insists upon allowing the alt-right to occupy the center of our campus for four days to harass, threaten and intimidate us, as they did during Milo's visit in February, then faculty cannot teach, staff cannot work and students cannot learn.

We refuse to grant the alt-right the media spectacle that they so desperately desire. This strategy responds to the concerns voiced in the letter authored by the chairs of the three departments most impacted--Gender and Women's Studies, African American Studies and Ethnic Studies--and also follows the lead of the [Southern Poverty Law Center] advice to ignore these agitators. As faculty, we reject both the administration's rhetoric of false equivalency that all speech--including "hate speech"--merits value and respect and also the impulse to see direct confrontation as the only strategy of resistance. A boycott of all campus activities during these days is the only responsible course of action.

Therefore we are calling upon faculty to take the following steps:

1. Cancel classes and tell students to stay home. A boycott of classes affirms that our fundamental responsibility as faculty is to protect the safety and well-being of all our students. While we understand the argument that canceling classes might be seen as a penalty to students who want to learn, by holding class when some students CANNOT attend by virtue of their DACA status and the imminent threat that these campus events hold, faculty who DO hold classes are disadvantaging DACA students and others who will feel threatened by being on campus.

2. Close buildings, close departments and let staff stay home. If the campus is unsafe for student learning then it is unsafe for staff members to work. We should work with campus maintenance and building managers to close as many departments and buildings as possible, starting with those in the immediate vicinity of Sproul Plaza. No one should be forced to work surrounded by men with clubs, police with guns and the sting of teargas.

3. Faculty who decide to hold class during this week, in the face of these explicit threats, should not penalize students who are afraid to come to campus. It is unfair and discriminatory for faculty to schedule exams or require attendance during this week. Such an expectation forces students to choose between their physical safety, their mental well-being and a grade. Consider making a video lecture available, giving the students a take-home assignment, or creating another alternative class plan. If you decide you must hold class, please do it away from campus, away from the Telegraph Avenue point of campus entry, and away from downtown.

The administration, in failing to halt these events, has left concerned faculty with no other choice than to act to prevent further harm to our community. We urge you to join us in keeping our students and our campus safe by signing on to this call for a campus-wide boycott.

Signatories (For a full list of signatories, or to add your name to this letter, follow this link and sign at the bottom.)

Michael Mark Cohen, Associate Teaching Professor, American Studies and African American Studies
Leigh Raiford, Associate Professor, African American Studies
Juana María Rodríguez, Professor, Ethnic Studies
Charis Thompson, Chancellor's Professor, Gender and Women's Studies and Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society
Leslie Salzinger, Associate Professor, Gender and Women's Studies
Jeffrey Skoller, Associate Professor, Film and Media
Natalia Brizuela, Associate Professor, Spanish and Portuguese and Film and Media
Julia Bryan-Wilson, Professor, History of Art
Katrin Wehrheim, Associate Professor, Mathematics
Allan Desouza, Associate Professor and Chair, Art Practice
Victoria E. Robinson, Lecturer, Ethnic Studies
John A. Powell, Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society
Ramona Naddaff, Associate Professor, Rhetoric
Peter Glazer, Associate Professor, Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies
Mary Ann Doane, Class of 1937, Professor of Film and Media
Anne Walsh, Associate Professor, Art Practice
Jake Kosek, Associate Professor, Geography
Stephanie Syjuco, Assistant Professor, Art Practice
Mel Y. Chen, Associate Professor, Gender and Women's Studies
Cori Hayden, Associate Professor, Anthropology
Gregory Levine, Professor, Art and Architecture of Japan and Buddhist Visual Cultures
James Vernon, Professor, Department of History
Samera Esmeir, Associate Professor, Rhetoric
Richard B. Norgaard, Professor Emeritus, Energy and Resources Group
Rachel Morello-Frosch, Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and School of Public Health
Christy Getz, Cooperative Extension Specialist, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management
Stefannia Mambelli, Integrative Biology
Lauren Kroiz, Associate Professor, History of Art
Evan Bissell, Instructor, Art Practice, UCB/Fall Program for Freshman
Paola Bacchetta, Professor, Department of Gender and Women's Studies
Minoo Moallem, Professor, Department of Gender and Women's Studies
Déborah Blocker, Associate Professor, Department of French
Carlos Muñoz, Jr., Edward A. Dickson Distinguished Emeriti Professor, Ethnic Studies
Patricia Penn Hilden, Professor Emerita, Ethnic Studies
Chris Zepeda-Millan, Assistant Professor, Department of Ethnic Studies
Mark Goble, Associate Professor, English
Keith P. Feldman, Associate Professor, Ethnic Studies
Nadia Ellis, Associate Professor, English
Nikki Jones, Associate Professor, African American Studies
Susan Schweik, Professor, English
Geoffrey G. O'Brien, Associate Professor, English
Emily O'Rourke, GSI, Rhetoric
Beezer de Martelly, PhD Candidate, Music/Ethnomusicology
Laleh Behbehanian, Lecturer, Department Of Sociology
Suzanne Guerlac, Professor, French Department
Ivonne del Valle, Associate Professor, Spanish and Portuguese
Janelle Scott, Associate Professor
Soraya Tlatli, Associate Professor, French
Peter Teichner, Professor of Mathematics
Michael J. Dumas, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, African American Studies
Akua Ofori, Postdoctoral Scholar
Ayse Agis, Continuing Lecturer, Gender and Women's Studies
Maria Faini, CRG Specialist/PhD candidate, Ethnic Studies/Critical Theory
Scott Hewicker, Lecturer, First Year Program
Caroline Lemak Brickman, PhD candidate, Slavic Department
Sima Belmar, Lecturer, TDPS
Bryan Wagner, Associate Professor, English
Todd P. Olson, Professor, History of Art
Anne-Lise Francois, Associate Professor, Comparative Literature and English
Jovan Lewis, Assistant Professor, Geography and African American Studies
Jodi Halpern, Professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities
Donna Honarpisheh, Comparative Literature
Debarati Sanyal, Professor, Department of French
Abigail De Kosnik, Associate Professor, Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies
Patricia Baquedano-Lopez, Professor, Education
T. Carlis Roberts, Associate Professor, Music
Ana Belén Redondo Campillos, Lecturer, Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Arts and Humanities, History of Art
Andy Shenken, Professor, Architecture
Celeste Langan, Associate Professor, Department of English
Erin M. Kerrison, Assistant Professor of Social Welfare
Jean-Paul Bourdier, Professor, Architecture
Brandi Catanese, Associate Professor, African American Studies
Tina Sacks, Assistant Professor, School of Social Welfare
Riva Bruenn, Lecturer, Plant and Microbial Biology
Zara Kadkani Schmitt, PhD candidate, Architecture
Stephanie Mech, Student Services and Admissions, School of Public Health
Bryce Becker, PhD student, Graduate School of Education
Ash Lynette, Masters candidate, School of Social Welfare
Katy Fox-Hodess, PhD student, Sociology
Irene Calimlim, MPH/MCP candidate, School of Public Health, Department of City and Regional Planning
Azin Seraj, Lecturer, Art Department
Joanna Mandell, Lecturer, UCB-UCSF Joint Medical Program
Xavier Perrone, Programs manager, Center for Latino Policy Research
Dexter Zavalza Hough-Snee, PhD candidate, Spanish and Portuguese
Adeola Oni-Orisan, PhD candidate, Medical Anthropology
Raty Syka, Folklore Masters Program
Angus Reid, PhD candidate, English
Ricky Vides, Academic Advisor, College of Natural Resources
Zilose Lyons, Program manager, Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases
Phoebe Parker-Shames, PhD student, Environmental Science Policy and Management
Joshua Anderson, GSI, English
Erin Greer, GSI, Department of English
Manuel Rosaldo, PhD candidate, Sociology
Laila Riazi, PhD student, Comparative Literature
Alex Bush, PhD candidate, Film and Media
Seth Holmes, Associate Professor, Public Health and Medical Anthropology
Maya Kronfeld, PhD candidate, Comparative Literature
Johnathan Vaknin, PhD candidate, Comparative Literature
Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda, PhD student, East Asian Languages and Cultures
Kathryn Levine, Ph.D. candidate, French
Hallie Wells, PhD candidate, Anthropology
Daniel Benjamin, GSI, English
Ernest Artiz, GSI, Department of English
Eric Peterson, PhD student, Deptartment of Architecture
Christian Nagler, PhD candidate, Theater, Dance and Performance Studies
Zachary Levenson, PhD candidate, Sociology
Lida Zeitlin Wu, PhD candidate, Film and Media
Elias Lawliet, PhD student, Jurisprudence and Social Policy
John Mundell, PhD student, African American and African Diaspora Studies
Pedro Rolon, GSI/PhD student, Comparative Literature
Alex Brostoff, GSI and PhD student, Comparative Literature

Click here for the letter and full list of signatories.

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