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An open letter to the campus community

From Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, ASUC President Roxanne Winston, Vice Chancellor Gibor Basri, Vice Chancellor Harry LeGrande

18 November 2008

Recent events both on and off campus have prompted us to send this open letter to the campus community. In order for all of us to thrive and succeed, our campus must be safe and welcoming, and disagreements need to be managed in a respectful and civil manner. At Berkeley, we are passionate about the matters that shape our world; debate, free speech, and political activism are proudly defining characteristics of our campus. But we must also ensure that debates and advocacy take place in a reasoned and civil way that increases understanding and does not promote intolerance and hate.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of troubling incidents that make us acutely aware of the need for continued vigilance, constructive dialogue and concerted action to protect these values. In addition, we believe that it is essential for every member of the campus community to be aware of the venues and vehicles that are available for dialogue, conflict resolution and the reporting of incidents, including acts of retaliation, that appear to violate our principles, values, and standards of conduct.

Most recently a dispute between students with differing views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict led to a physical altercation and citations issued by the police. Physical assault and violence are never acceptable. We as a campus will not tolerate such incidents and reiterate our condemnation of them. Other disturbing and unacceptable incidents this semester have included hate graffiti, racially derogatory remarks directed at specific students, and potentially criminal acts of retribution. The cumulative impact of these incidents has left many on campus feeling uncertain about how, exactly, the campus is responding and disappointed in the behavior of a few students who have been provocative or tried to take matters in their own hands. It is expected that students themselves will take leadership and responsibility for upholding campus values.

We are taking vigorous steps to address the current situation. University administration and student leaders are working to make sure that all voices are being heard and tensions are lessened. The UC Police Department is continuing to investigate the recent altercation, graffiti, and other matters. Campus groups are holding activities such as forums, town halls, and other forms of civil dialogue between people with differences including this week’s Peace Not Prejudice events (www.calpnp.com).

The values of civility and tolerance require constant attention, thought, and action. To help promote them, in 2005 the University adopted “Principles of Community” (www.berkeley.edu/about/principles.shtml) which include the expectations we hold for respectful behavior from all members of the campus community. In addition, the campus has a number of resources which provide proper channels to deal with provocations which violate our values. You can turn to any of these offices: ASUC Student Advocate, the Office of Campus Climate and Compliance, Office of the Dean of Students, the Gender Equity Resource Center, the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards, staff in the Office of Multicultural Student Development, the UC Police Department, and the staff and student ombuds offices.

Developing a long-term strategy for improving campus climate is part of the charge of the new division of Equity & Inclusion, under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Gibor Basri. The division is developing further policies and practices which will help promote an inclusive and welcoming climate. One of these will be a “Campus Climate Team” that will help monitor and rapidly respond to future incidents. We will be updating and expanding the campus website for reporting bias related incidents (stophate.berkeley.edu) and using technology to build an on-line community of those who want to make Berkeley safer and more inclusive. We are actively soliciting suggestions from students, student groups, staff, and faculty on ways to make UC Berkeley more civil and respectful of differences. We will be reporting regularly on the progress of these activities.

Students, faculty, and staff can also help by practicing civility with all members of our community and working to promote understanding and acceptance. We encourage everyone to participate in the debates and discussions that have made Berkeley famous throughout the world and to do so in the spirit of intellectual engagement, rational argumentation, respectful discourse, and regard for the common good. The vibrancy of Berkeley’s intellectual environment is made possible by our rich diversity. Let us use this opportunity to help lead the way away from bigotry and hate towards a flourishing multicultural society.

Signatures of Birgeneau, Basri, Winston and LeGrande