President Napolitano, Listen Up: A Response to Napolitano’s Letter in the Boston Globe

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To UC President Janet Napolitano,

Last week, you wrote an article for the Boston Globe expressing your opinion on freedom of speech. You wrote about how UC campuses have moved away from “freedom of speech” to “freedom from speech” and you reminisced on the days of the Vietnam War protests and the 1960s Free Speech Movement held at UC Berkeley.

You described these monumental moments as loud, angry and in-your-face, and for a moment, I thought you understood. I thought you knew how hard it was to be heard back then, how hard it was to voice concerns about the social injustices happening in our own country.

But then you said today’s generation of students are “condemning speech” and “demanding protection” against Trump-like rhetoric from controversial speakers invited to campuses — making villains out of our faculty and “constantly” asking you to “intervene.” Your tone made us sound like a bunch of babies yelling “Mommy, mommy! They’re picking on us!”

Maybe you missed the memo, Mrs. Napolitano, but your $570,000 base salary as President of the UC campuses means that sometimes you’re going to have to get your hands dirty. It means that sometimes you’re going to have to pull up your sleeves and deal with issues arising on your campuses, not because you think we’re a bunch of whiny babies, but because it’s your job and that’s what you signed up for.

Asking you to intervene during times when there’s racial divide happening across all 10 of your campuses should not be taken so lightly by you. Especially since your generation saw what happened during the civil rights movements in the 1960s.

As for the whole claim that we’re asking for your “protection,” you couldn’t be further from the truth. What students want is to be heard. They want to be heard and validated just as much as these just-for-show speakers you spent a majority of your article trying to defend.

The true value behind freedom of speech, as you claimed in your article, is to voice our opinions, right? To become educated and have sophisticated debates about issues that may be hard to swallow, right? Well, Mrs. Napolitano, it’s pretty hard to do so when some of these invited speakers are not up for the challenge. Instead, they cower behind petty insults and avoid opposing arguments when confronted by protesters. After they’re done saying what they need to say, they pack up and drive home — leaving students to battle it out amongst themselves.

When push comes to shove, riot police are put on standby with their wooden batons and pepper spray canisters.
Ready to shut down anyone who gets out of line, they take aim at the same “loud, angry, and in-your-face” students that have been fighting for their rights since the days of Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez.

UCI experienced this last spring when Milo half-wit-nopoulos stirred up racial tensions between student conservatives and students of color. Instead of facing the crowd himself, police were enforced to silence the mess he left behind as he moved on to another hate mission of his: cyber-bullying SNL actor Leslie Jones via Twitter.

So when you say that it’s “antithetical” for people to “shout down speakers,” maybe it’s because they’re still not being heard, even after all these years. Not by the speakers, not by police, and definitely not by you.

Who can forget when a group of student protesters at UC Davis were excessively pepper-sprayed in the face for expressing their views on tuition hikes in 2011? It seemed pretty clear that someone was trying to shut them up and sweep the whole incident under the rug by scrubbing news sources from replaying the event through mainstream media.

According to you, it was nothing more than a load of “crap” and something you didn’t need to “listen to,” as you said when you walked out on a group of these same protesters at a UC Regents meeting in San Francisco.
My point is, if you’re going to preach about the benefits of freedom of speech, don’t undermine the people who express their frustrations differently. They’re not running away from freedom of speech, they’re fighting for it. It might not be pretty at times, but it’s something that everyone is entitled to and you have to listen to as our UC President.

While I agree that we shouldn’t discourage speakers from coming to our campus, I do think that we need to assume responsibility for their actions. If they’re going to come to our campus and spread sparks of hate-filled messages, it’s safe to assume that a wildfire of outrage and protests will likely occur. It’s up to you, Mrs. Napolitano, how you’re going to handle it and I would hope that you’d take your own advice and handle it with the same poise and sophistication you expect from us.

Jessica Resendez is a transfer Literary Journalism major. She can be reached at jmresend@uci.edu.

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