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Tue Oct 16, 2012, 02:44 PM

UC Berkeley's 'hostile environment' question

The U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into whether Jewish students at the university are the victims of a "pervasive hostile environment" in violation of federal civil rights laws.

October 15, 2012

In the latest chapter of a long-running controversy over anti-Israel protests at UC Berkeley, the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into whether Jewish students at the university are the victims of a "pervasive hostile environment" in violation of federal civil rights laws. Given the importance of free speech, especially in a university setting, the department needs to tread carefully.

The department responded to a request from lawyers for two recent Berkeley graduates who earlier had sued the university complaining about a "dangerous anti-Semitic climate" at Berkeley. In their letter, the lawyers alleged that the university's actions "present a disturbing echo of incitement, intimidation, harassment and violence carried out under the Nazi regime ... against Jewish students and scholars in the leading universities ... during the turbulent years leading up to and including the Holocaust."

Central to the complaint is an annual demonstration known as Apartheid Week, which features a guerrilla-theater-style simulation of a West Bank security checkpoint at which students dressed as Israeli soldiers and carrying mock assault weapons ask "travelers" whether they are Jewish. Those crossing the checkpoint are generally participants in the protest. In the past, though, other students were reportedly questioned. One Jewish student has alleged that a protester assaulted her with a shopping cart during Apartheid Week in 2010.

More: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-berkeley-anti-semitism-20121015,0,5706247.story


While I appreciate the argument in favor of the loosest possible interpretation of the First Amendment in regards to the question of a "hostile environment," I don't think the university has a compelling interest in protecting such hostile events. There has been a dangerous lean in the UC and CSU systems toward accepting extremist hate speech as de rigeur of political debate and I think that needs to stop. The university should take steps to promote tolerance and civility both in the classroom and on campuses.

I have a friend who is an adjunct at San Francisco State University teaching an Ethnic Studies course, this is her post from facebook last night about her class:

Tonight, my class sucked every ounce of energy in me. One student refused to stop saying "illegal alien" and the other saw feminism as an attack on his manhood and kept speaking over the women in the class. I said any form of racist or sexist behavior and/or commentary would not be tolerated in my classroom. Ethnic Studies is about Human Rights. It's about liberation. It's about co-existance. Good thing we are reading Anzaldua and bell hooks...I used their xenophobic commentary as a learning tool. #emotionalexhaustion

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