Ann Coulter event stirs controversy at UC Berkeley: BridgeUSA and students weigh in

‘It feels like the world is now taking a step back instead of forward’

After conservative right-wing author, Ann Coulter, accepted an invitation from the Berkeley College Republicans and BridgeCal to speak at UC Berkeley, the administration cancelled the event due to “safety concerns” and fear that those participating in the event would not be adequately protected.

Believing this decision was unfair and discriminatory, the Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation filed a lawsuit against UC Berkeley on Monday, April 24th. The university is being sued for unreasonably restricting time and location of events, resulting in the “marginalization of the expression of conservative viewpoints”.

Coulter was originally scheduled to give a speech on Thursday, April 27th but was then offered an alternate date on May 2nd, which the BCR opposed because that date falls on Dead Week. Despite warnings from university officials, Coulter stated that she would speak on campus regardless.

BridgeUSA at UC Berkeley (BridgeCal), a campus organization that aims to facilitate discussions among students with contrasting points of views and ideologies, released an official statement regarding the lawsuit:

“After multiple attempts at renegotiation, Ann Coulter’s April 27th appearance at Cal has been cancelled by the administration, citing concerns that they cannot adequately protect the safety of students on campus. BridgeUSA at Berkeley agreed with the May 2nd rescheduling, but May 2nd did not work for other parties involved. This is not the administration’s fault; this is the fault of violent extremist groups who would put students in danger in order to suppress political speech they disagree with.

We live in dangerous, divisive times, where universities cannot guarantee the right to free and respectful expression of political expression. The fact that the University is not able to protect its students from violent extremism is indicative that the tension in the political climate has reached critical mass, and that it is imperative to fix the political divide now. We at BridgeUSA at Berkeley know how much work there is in front of us, but we will not halt our efforts to heal our campus and our nation.”

On Wednesday, April 26th (the day before Coulter’s anticipated arrival) Chancellor Nicholas Dirks sent out an official announcement that reads:

“This University has two non-negotiable commitments, one to Free Speech, the other to the safety of our campus community members, their guests, and the public. In that context, we cannot ignore or deny what is a new reality. Groups and individuals from the extreme ends of the political spectrum have made clear their readiness and intention to utilize violent tactics in support or in protest of certain speakers.”

Later that day, Ann Coulter cancelled the event after Young America announced they could no longer support her. Chancellor Dirks sent a follow-up announcement that in spite of this cancellation, authorities are still preparing for any possible protests:

“While Ms. Coulter has now stated that she will not come to Berkeley tomorrow, the University of California Police Department (UCPD) has seen evidence of and continues to plan for potentially violent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations on Sproul Plaza throughout the day. Our goal – tomorrow, and always – is to ensure the safety of those in our campus community while also protecting the First Amendment rights of those who wish to gather on our public campus.”

The Berkeley College Republicans could not be reached for a statement, but our fellow Cal Bears weighed in on the tug-of-war issue of free speech and safety in respect to our current political climate.

Taversia Borrelli, third-year sociology major

“I think no matter what Cal does in attempting to ensure the safety of speakers and students alike, and in promoting fairness to all, there’s going to be a shitstorm. The difference is that one results in blood, fires, and broken windows; the other, in hurt feelings.”

Michele Datu, third-year English major

“Well, it really is a sensitive spot for Berkeley, now isn’t it? I feel like with Berkeley’s legacy of free speech and with most of the community being very open to perspective and change, the school should allow for a conservative author to speak. However, there are other matters to consider such as the safety of the students, speaker, and campus overall.

Honestly, it feels like the world is now taking a step back instead of forward and I think that’s what’s so shocking. It’s not a step forward in many people’s eyes, so having a speaker who supports such things would bring about protests for sure. But just as she has the right to speak, people have a right to peaceful assembly. But sometimes it’s not always peaceful and I think the school realizes that and is taking action for the right reasons.”

Jordan Lee, fourth-year microbiology major

“I think filing a lawsuit against the university is a little extreme. I understand where they’re coming from, since Cal is supposed to be the home of the Free Speech movement. But considering what happened when Milo Yiannopoulos tried speaking on campus just a couple of months ago, it only makes sense for the university to take steps to make sure something dangerous like that doesn’t happen again.”

UC Berkeley