October 29, 2006
by Reut Cohen
More than a dozen Jewish student leaders met with Chancellor Michael Drake and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Manuel Gomez on Wednesday, October 18 to discuss the recent anti-Semitic vandalism here amidst a broader discussion about how Jewish students feel they are treated. This meeting marked the first time that the chancellor met with Jewish students about their concerns over the atmosphere on campus since his installation 15 months ago.
The students present expressed their displeasure regarding the current tense situation on campus between Muslim and Jewish students and the recent vandalism.
“I hate that things like this happen,” Drake responded, acknowledging that there has been speech on campus promoted by the Muslim Student Union (MSU) that is largely hateful. Drake called hate-speech “vile,” “awful,” and “stupid,” and said it is “weak” human beings who engage in such speech. The chancellor also asserted that hateful speech does absolutely nothing to promote understanding and tolerance.
Many Jewish students at the meeting blamed the Muslim Student Union for creating an environment in which hate speech can prosper, which they felt had a direct connection to the vandalism.
Some of the Jewish students at the meeting revealed that they and others had been subject to verbal and physical intimidation at the hands of MSU members, and that they had previously reported these claims to campus security. In light of this, some students asked that Drake place restrictions on where MSU events are held, saying that if their events were held in classrooms as opposed to public spaces, their effect would not be as broad. However, Chancellor Drake told Jewish students at the meeting that he cannot restrict any club, that it would be “violation of law to prohibit certain speech.”
Gomez emphasized that though hate speech may be present, he would not seek to curtail it, as “one person’s hate speech is another person’s education.”
Drake stated that it is not in the power of the University of California to prohibit speech on campus in any fashion because it would be against the constitutional rights of individuals.
Students at the meeting pointed to the fact that there have been threats, verbal and physical, and that the university should do more in order to ensure the safety of Jewish students. I invited Drake to come to AFI events and other Jewish events, and he said that he would plan to attend a Shabbat dinner, and speak at an AFI event.
Some students also suggested that the MSU violated campus policy, specifically, policy 102.02 (dishonesty outside the classroom) and 102.11 (harassment), for its use of anti-Israel propaganda. But I and some other leaders present objected to the approach of seeking to violate MSU students as a solution to the problem.
Students representing Hillel and Anteaters For Israel suggested working with other clubs on campus to promote more understanding, and perhaps even meet with Muslim student groups.
Jewish leaders on campus left the meeting with mixed feelings. On one hand, it is clear to the Jewish community that the administration is attempting to be supportive and helpful. On the other hand, many students worry that, as happened here, UCI personnel will take action only after students are directly and obviously targeted, as opposed to confronting the growing problem before such results occur.