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UC Berkeley students are not pawns in your political game

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NOVEMBER 16, 2023

It is no secret that college campuses have historically been the focal point of social movements in the United States. In fact, UC Berkeley has been the catalyst for student activism since the Free Speech Movement occurred in the 1960s. 

It is equally as apparent that the campus has since become an ideological — and actual — battleground, often for those with no relationship to the institution at all. And students get caught in the crossfire.

Since Oct. 7, the responses of students on college campuses have once again been magnified, this time in the context of the Israel-Hamas war. 

On our campus, numerous vigils, rallies and walkouts have been organized by student groups such as Bears for Israel, Berkeley Tikvah, Bears for Palestine, UC Berkeley Grads for Palestine and more. These planned events have given students the opportunity to collectively advocate for causes important to their identities, as well as mourn the overwhelming loss of life.

For more than a month now, we as an editorial board have grappled with what to say at a time when everyone is watching.

While we take a stance against hate speech and violence, against the loss of civilian lives and against antisemitism and Islamophobia, the people who are listening often aren’t the ones causing the problem. In fact, campus student groups have been adamant about encouraging their members to exercise free speech, but not to attend counter-protests. 

This fire is not coming from inside the house. It is coming from outside entities looking to make an example of “America’s most left-wing institution.”

This introduces a great paradox when examining activism on college campuses. 

We are given no room to mourn, nor to learn. Anytime we speak out, someone is there with a magnifying glass and a microphone, ready to twist our words and destroy the reputations we have just begun to build.

What we need the media to understand is that student activism is not just a headline or eye-catching report, but rather a demonstration of budding scholars exercising free speech to advocate during times of such tragedy and pain.

These past five weeks have given us the opportunity to reflect on the treatment of students involved in activism on campus. Our news department has done a thorough job reporting on a collective fear that exists across the student body — a fear of facing retribution in the form of privacy violations, personal safety and even career prospects. 

The student body is mainly composed of young adults who are here to develop their understanding of the world and find their voice. It is important to realize that students do not attend university to be forced into monolithic views on issues as nuanced as this one, and it is only natural to allow for discourse to further knowledge and understanding. 

It is reckless to use these emotional responses to fan the flames of contempt across the country. In the process, this creates animosity between students who possess varying viewpoints. 

Much of the harmful and unsafe conduct has been promoted by these outside entities that actively dox students and professors who speak publicly about the war.

Personal information — including biographical details and social media accounts — is being made available to the general public online without consent. Future employers are then able to find these contacts through background checks and online searches and have already threatened to reject job applicants who appear on these websites.

Jewish and Muslim students feel unsafe because their personal identities have become political fodder that has resulted in dangerous rhetoric. The Anti-Defamation League has reported a 388% rise in antisemitic incidents over the past year, with 312 reports occurring between Oct. 7 and Oct. 23. Additionally, a report released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations stated that it has received more than 1,200 reports of anti-Arab and Islamophobic bias since Oct. 7. 

These numbers are harrowing, and these acts continue to deeply affect students on campus. And while this is a period of increased activism, it is also a period of deep mourning. Responding to violence with hate does nothing to erase that tragedy.

There is little a college newspaper can do to touch a topic this heavy and painful. However, we can — and should — use our platform to defend the students that this campus stands to serve. 

While this editorial board and the campus community may differ vastly on where we each stand, we can all agree on one thing: We must remain firmly committed to protecting students.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2023 Editorial Board. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

NOVEMBER 16, 2023