Student Opinion: Campus Controversy Highlights Tension between Activism and Inclusivity

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:UC-Berkeley-campus-overview-from-hills.h.jpg User:Introvert, CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons

The following piece was submitted through the Vanguard’s Berkeley Student Publication and represents the views of the author and not necessarily that of the Vanguard and its editorial staff. The Vanguard invites robust but respectful dialogue on this and all topics. Alternative views can be submitted to: info@davisvanguard.org.

By a UC Berkeley Student, who wishes to retain anonymity.

In an Asian American studies class at UC Berkeley, an offer to attend a Palestine Walkout protest was extended to students through an extra credit assignment. As an enrolled student in the class, I viewed academia’s failure to balance personal freedoms and student activism in a way that ensures inclusivity.

The ordeal started when one of the two courses’ graduate student instructors (GSIs) introduced the extra credit assignment, including joining a Palestine Walkout Protest and providing proof of attending the event. Previously, the class touted no forms of extra credit, but after a tough midterm, the extra credit provided several much-needed percentage points. I believe the intention of the extra credit was to encourage student activism, such as that of the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) in the 1960s, in which Professor Dong, our lecturer in the class, played a pivotal role as a student activist. 

The following day, major news outlets, including Fox News and the NewYork Post, wrote stories on the matter. Most importantly, they shared the original screenshot of the assignment that provided the GSI’s personal information, including her email and full name. This led to a severe doxxing incident, raising concerns about her general safety and forcing the GSI to take a leave of absence. 

The following week after the doxxing, Professor Dong joined our discussion section and provided context to the whole ordeal. The assignment sparked zero debate in class, as many believed activism should be tolerated in the classroom. Meanwhile, I sat there quietly, afraid to speak up and propose a different opinion in front of the entire class and Professor Dong. I would only find similar thoughts from Berkeley students outside the classroom. 

After these events, I was invited to a private one-on-one meeting with a prominent Jewish leader on campus. She asked if any Jewish students were in the class because they might feel concerned that the GSI’s approach inadvertently created an unwelcoming environment for Jewish students and created a class divide. She noted that in many other courses across campus, Jewish students felt unsafe going to lectures and attending the subsequent discussion sections, only highlighting the need for inclusive educational environments where every student, regardless of background, can feel safe and included. 

This entire event highlighted the issue of encouraging student activism while maintaining an inclusive and respectful classroom atmosphere. It’s led me to believe universities cannot balance activism with inclusiveness and implement these policies within the coursework. As a principal, I do not believe any extra credit assignments should guide students in any effort that can promote political or social divisiveness, let alone a politically identified protest. The classroom’s primary goal should be to teach critical thinking skills, not activism. Providing the tools to make informed decisions does not require instructors to gear the class toward any particular viewpoint.

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4 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    As a principal, I do not believe any extra credit assignments should guide students in any effort that can promote political or social divisiveness, let alone a politically identified protest. The classroom’s primary goal should be to teach critical thinking skills, not activism. Providing the tools to make informed decisions does not require instructors to gear the class toward any particular viewpoint.

    So basically the professor was buying off students with extra credit if they attended a pro Palestinian protest.  I think we can all agree this is wrong.  It’s sad that in this day and age that the student who wrote this has to submit it anonymously I’m sure out of fear of reprisal.

    1. David Greenwald

      I’m not sure we all agree that’s wrong. I know a lot of classes that offer credit and extra credit for activism. Where I think the professor most likely erred here is not offering alternatives to students not predisposed towards that particular cause.

      1. Keith Olsen

        I’m not sure we all agree that’s wrong.

        Really?  Would you feel the same way if a professor offered their class extra credit to attend a pro Trump MAGA rally?

        1. David Greenwald

          Not sure you really understood my point. My point was that a professor could have offered extra credit to anyone attending a political event and it would have been alright. That I don’t have any problem with it. Offering it to a specific event only is problematic (at best).

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