California college system adopts anti-discrimination policy for ‘free speech’

‘Unwelcome’ label added to policy promising free speech on campus after descendants of slaves attempted to meet with chancellor A 10-campus system of higher education in California has adopted a policy that strengthens protections…

California college system adopts anti-discrimination policy for 'free speech'

‘Unwelcome’ label added to policy promising free speech on campus after descendants of slaves attempted to meet with chancellor

A 10-campus system of higher education in California has adopted a policy that strengthens protections for its free speech rights, after a campus group renamed itself “Caste Relations” for a “safe space” event.

California’s central universities, the University of California, California Polytechnic State University and the California State University, include about 1 million students. The system’s governing board added “Caste Relations” to its language of permissible expression on campuses after two descendants of slaves attempted to meet with the chancellor on the issue in 2015.

In a California state senate committee report, the descendants told the committee that it had denied them their “free speech right” as “academic subjects”.

“While these people’s views may be offensive to some, not only do I not think they have the right to censor our views, but I do not think they have the right to silence others’ voices,” Marcus M Ledet, one of the descendants, said, adding that the fact that the university’s own archives include documents on slavery showed how “disrespectful” it was to restrict free speech.

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The draft policy, adopted by the system’s board on Tuesday, defines protected expression and a principle known as “uninhibited expression”. “The principles of unimpeded expression in this document rest on the centrality of the human condition and the state of being, and their importance to furthering equality and respect in society,” the policy reads.

The language of anti-discrimination and free speech have been intertwined since the first UC president, Arnold Hanson, coined the phrase in 1950. An anti-racist group called the Iron Workers Union protested plans for an off-campus campus reunion of some graduates of a group of California estate owners, who avoided military service during the first world war and benefited from government loans for land that they later built as mansions.

At UC Davis, the UC system’s oldest and largest campus, racial tensions have re-emerged with the national protests triggered by a series of police killings of black men.

At a fall 2017 “safe space” event, titled “Education Is Not Racism”, and celebrating “troubled folks and sometimes misbehaving students”, a protest erupted after a campus group renamed itself “Caste Relations”. The group was then banned from the campus for two years by the chancellor, Ralph Hexter.

Following a concerted campaign by the descendants, the school said it would re-advertise the event and provide a safe space for descendants.

In a statement on its website, UC Davis notes that the family of founder Herbert Kidd had slavery issues and that local slave-owners donated lands for the university. “Caste Relations” was an attempt by a group of citizens of “chattel slavery” to focus their campaign on anti-racism and anti-Semitic sentiment, rather than slavery, the university said.

UC Davis has since drawn attention to its new policy, which states “we respect the rights of all students, faculty, staff, and the public to express their viewpoints without threat of arbitrary or discriminatory action”.

“We hope this new language for our form of expression, and the language that precedes it, will send a clear message that all members of the UC community can pursue their studies in a free and open manner without fear of reprisal,” UC Davis’s director of community relations, Chitra Somani, said in a statement.

The university also confirmed that it included “unwelcome” under its definition of protected expression. “That is the phrase that we see people often bringing up,” Somani said. “People are quite passionate about the policy. But we made sure that we didn’t discourage free speech.”

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