In our nation today, we are witnessing an unprecedented unwillingness to accept, or merely recognize and respect, beliefs or behavior that differ from our own. It is the essence of intolerance, and it has unquestionably skyrocketed, traversing political divides, identities, ethnicities and nationalities.
This is particularly problematic on college campuses, as we witnessed when violence broke out recently at UC Berkeley and Middlebury College over the scheduled appearance of controversial speakers. In this climate of increasing polarization and hate, implementing policies that encourage tolerance and protect the right to free speech on campus — even speech we find hateful and offensive — couldn’t be more important.
Recently, 47 Jewish, Christian, civil rights, legal and education groups called on the University of California Regents to ask each UC Chancellor to implement the landmark “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” that was unanimously passed last March in the wake of escalating anti-Jewish hostility.
Alongside a sharp spike in anti-Semitic activity reported nationally are hundreds of acts of hatred and intolerance targeting other vulnerable groups, including African Americans, LGBTQ community members, immigrants, women, Muslims and many others. We are also witnessing a sharp rise in hateful, intolerant acts directed at individuals holding divergent ideological and political viewpoints.
On too many campuses, one group’s freedom of expression has been used to denigrate, harass, intimidate and shut down the expression of another. A diverse array of students is feeling increasingly targeted by these acts of intolerance. This not only deprives individuals of their freedom of expression and social, political and academic rights but also undermines the very mission of the university.
Fortunately for the University of California, a policy document already exists for addressing this problem.
The Principles Against Intolerance rightly points out: “Freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry are paramount in a public research university and form the bedrock on which our mission of discovery is founded. …Acts of hatred and other intolerant conduct, as well as acts of discrimination that demean our differences, are antithetical to the values of the University and serve to undermine its purpose.”
Recognizing that each member of the University community “is entitled to speak, to be heard, and to be engaged based on the merits of their views, and unburdened by historical biases, stereotypes and prejudices,” the statement identifies those acts of intolerance and calls on UC Chancellors to address all intolerant behavior.
The Regents’ statement couldn’t be more relevant and important right now — but only if it is diligently implemented on each UC campus.
UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman commendably became the first chancellor to commit his campus to a full implementation. It’s time the remaining UC Chancellors follow Gillman’s lead.
Every Chancellor should review, update and enforce campus policies and procedures to ensure the protection of all students’ rights to freedom of expression and a campus free from intimidation and denigration.
Every UC Chancellor should develop educational programs that help students recognize and avoid intolerant behavior, teach and encourage them to express their diverse views in a productive and respectful manner, and foster a tolerance and appreciation of diverse opinions and identities.
Educating our nation’s youth that it is okay to respectfully agree to disagree will not only help restore civility and respect to campus, it will benefit our nation for years to come.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is a retired University of California at Santa Cruz faculty member and the director of AMCHA Initiative, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that combats anti-Semitism on campuses nationwide.She wrote this for The Mercury News.