On May 17, Students Supporting Israel at UCLA sponsored an event titled “Indigenous Peoples Unite.” Protestors entered the room and disrupted the event with enough ferocity that the panelists and audience felt silenced and intimidated.
Thankfully, no one was physically hurt. After the disruptors refused the organizer’s invitation to respectfully join the discussion, UCPD escorted them out of the room so that the event could continue. Video of the incident has circulated online, generating surprise, anger and frustration.
UCLA is a university committed to freedom of expression as well as freedom of inquiry. Even though such commitments require us to protect lawful protest, that does not include disruptions so severe that they effectively prevent speakers from reaching a willing audience. It is one thing to persuade through evidence and argument; it is quite another to interrupt with intimidation.
Given the diversity of our campus, we will be deeply divided on some contentious subjects. How we deal with that division is the challenge. Bullying and insults might be the norm elsewhere, but our UCLA community holds itself to a higher standard – one committed to persuasion and not coercion. Our True Bruin Values require it, and we refuse to settle for anything less.
Many, if not most, of the disruptors were unaffiliated with UCLA. For those outsiders who disrupted the event, we will refer all evidence of wrongdoing to local prosecutors to determine whether they have broken the law. For those who are members of our own community, clear transgressions of university policy will also be addressed appropriately. In doing so, we will be careful about getting the facts right – and not rush to judgment – to remain fair and consistent in our procedures.
We in the administration are committed to continuous improvement. So, we will also use this event to review and revise internal processes to better manage any future disruptions that may occur. We must strive to better communicate what freedom of expression does and does not mean at UCLA, so that all parties clearly understand the rules of engagement for conveying opposing views.
UCLA expects respectful dialogue from everyone on our campus. If we do not hold everyone to that standard, then every organization, community or identity group will be subject to the type of bullying tactics we saw last week. Respectful dialogue is not synonymous with meekness or conformity; to the contrary, it is the ultimate in courage and integrity, requiring us not only to speak but also to listen. The panelists and organizers of the event showed such courage and integrity; the disruptors regrettably did not.
Kang is UCLA’s vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion. Gorden is the vice chancellor of student affairs.