Dear Chancellor Syverud:
For the past two weeks a number of SU students have engaged in a rich and democratic tradition called free speech. As a Berkeley alumna I have been reminded of the now half a century old Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley during the Fall 1964 semester, the first of the 1960s campus student movements to make headlines all over the world. Lasting a little over two months, it ended with the arrest of 773 persons for occupying the administration building, the removal of the campus administration, and a vast enlargement of student rights. In that instance the students used their voices to advance their demands for change and to learn, as newly minted adults, the value of serious and meaningful debate.
Fifty years have elapsed since the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and students continue to fight for fair conditions and reasonable opportunities for all. Following that productive tradition our students have been calling attention to a number of concerns and demands. They have articulated their concerns quite eloquently, and with maturity. As a matter of fact if, as many argue, critical reflection is an extension of “critical thinking”, a process that asks us to think about our practice and ideas, then challenges us to step-back and examine our thinking by asking probing questions, I am proud to say that our students have honored that tradition, one at the core of a liberal arts education.
For over a decade now a great deal has been said about the supposed apathy of our youth. A frequent question is: Why is our generation so willfully ignorant? Many a parent and a teacher or mentor, have repeatedly told young adults: “You need to stand up for what you believe in. How do you expect people to believe in you if you can’t even actively stick up for yourself?” Well, our students have done just that. In so doing they have put their communication skills to work and, yes, they have tweeted, Facebooked, and instant messaged their demands, as part of a generation that has been defined by social networking, but they have also shown the ability to communicate with people face to face, to express those opinions directly to those in power, not just on a blog — to have serious face-to-face conversations with the administration, to express dissatisfaction with something that affects their real life, not secretly tweeting it behind a phone screen. They risk a great deal, and I have never been prouder of them.
This said, I realize the university has rules and regulations and, as a private institution, has to respond to a number of interests. My main concern, my main interest are my students, their safety, and their future, which includes their ability to be heard, to be safe, and to complete their education without sanctions.
I am writing to ask that our students be treated not only with respect, but that what they have risked so much for be seriously taken into account. A university has many missions as a recent newspaper article reminds us: the development of the whole, thinking person, the cultivation of creativity, the maturation of social and cultural sensibilities, and even the increased passion for life, learning and civic engagement of all sorts. Do not penalize or lend lip service to what our students have been risking so much for. Do not erase what years of teaching and mentoring have been able to achieve.
Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Culture
Director of the Latino-Latin American Studies Program