Student protesters at the University of California-Berkeley gathered in front of a bridge on campus and forcibly prevented white people from crossing it. Students of color were allowed to pass.
The massive human wall was conceived as a pro-safe space demonstration. Activists wanted the university administration to designate additional safe spaces for trans students, gay students, and students of color. They were apparently incensed that one of their official safe spaces had been moved from the fifth floor of a building to the basement.
According to video footage of the protest, demonstrators blocked off the bridge completely. Students who needed to get to class had no choice but to cross the stream by jumping from rock to rock. Dozens of people can be seen doing so.
In the video, the activists appeared to let several students of color pass unmolested, but white students were forced to find other routes. A few who tried to force their way through were violently rebuffed. Protesters shouted “Go around! Go around!” at a white man on a bicycle.
Another student was told, “This is bigger than you,” by a protester. “This is about whiteness.”
Afterward, the protest moved to the campus bookstore, where activists posted an eviction notice informing the owners that their building was being reclaimed as a safe space for queer and trans students.
“You are hereby notified by the students of the University of California, Berkeley, to vacate the premises immediately,” the eviction notice stated. “University administration wrongly allocated this two-story facility to a third-party corporation, keeping in line with its intensifying legacy of prioritizing financial profit over student needs.”
The protesters then marched through the student union, reportedly disrupting students who were studying.
I get that they are trying to make a point—they don’t think campus is a safe place for marginalized students, etc.—but racism in the service of activism is still racism. These students consider themselves progressives, but what’s progressive about punishing people—making it more difficult for them to get to class—because they were born with the wrong skin color?
Indeed, leftist student activism has become increasingly backward on race and identity issues as of late. The Berkeley protesters are demanding formal, university-sanctioned safe spaces for students who belong to particular identity groups. They want what can only be described as a kind of official segregation: separate spaces for students of color, trans students, queer students, etc.
Students have the right to sort themselves into whatever groups they want. But it’s baffling—to me, at least—that they would want these groups endorsed and managed by the administration, which creates the impression that identity-based division is some kind of university goal.
Berkeley’s public areas—its quads, common rooms, parks, student union, libraries, classrooms, and yes, bridges—should be safe, welcoming spaces for all students. What happened over the weekend didn’t look very inclusive to me.