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Holding Ourselves to a Higher Standard

Chancellor Block writes that as Bruins we need to strive to create an environment that affords everyone the opportunity to debate free of intimidation or harm.

I have been troubled by recent incidents of bias on campuses across our nation. Sadly, UCLA is not immune to these occurrences.

At a recent Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting, a few council members unfairly questioned the fitness of a USAC Judicial Board applicant because of her Jewish identity. Another upsetting incident occurred last weekend when inflammatory posters on our campus implied that Students for Justice in Palestine was a terrorist organization.

We should all be glad that, ultimately, the judicial board applicant was unanimously confirmed for her position and that the posters were taken down by members of our community. We are pleased that the students who initially objected to the Jewish student’s appointment apologized, and we are reassured that the UCLA Police Department is vigorously investigating the matter of the posters.

Yet we should also be concerned that these incidents took place at all. No student should feel threatened that they would be unable to participate in a university activity because of their religion. And no student should be compared to a terrorist for holding a political opinion. These disturbing episodes are very different, but they both are rooted in stereotypes and assumptions.

Political debate can stir passionate disagreements. The views of others may make us uncomfortable. That may be unavoidable. But to assume that every member of a group can’t be impartial or is motivated by hatred is intellectually and morally unacceptable. When hurtful stereotypes — of any group — are wielded to delegitimize others, we are all debased.

A first-rate intellectual community must hold itself to higher standards.

Even in the heat of debate, we must cultivate the skill and sensitivity to express opinions without belittling others or losing sight of their humanity. Speech that stigmatizes or tries to intimidate individuals or targeted groups — even if it is constitutionally protected — does not promote the responsible debate essential for a healthy democracy. It is insufficient to reserve empathy only for those who look or act or think like we do. We must do better than that.

As Bruins, we need to be thinkers and leaders who can see one another without prejudice and can engage one another in a manner that goes beyond slogans and is above slurs.

While any incident of bias against any member of our campus community saddens us, and we understand that these incidents may occur again, we will always take appropriate action if the UCLA Principles of Community or any laws are violated. And we will do everything we can to support a healthy environment for everyone in our community. If you feel you have been subjected to an incident of bias or hate, resources are available.

UCLA will not be defined by intolerance. We will strive to create a community that will honor the dignity of all its members even if we struggle with one another’s ideas. We will strive to create a community in which all of us can fully take part in campus life and express our views and identities, safe from intimidation, threat or harm. Let us all work together to do the good work of creating that community.


Gene D. Block

Feb. 24, 2015

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