June 4, 2020
Journalism, at its basics, is a disciplined search for truth to enable a free people to govern itself. But when people are gagged by fear or muzzled by violence, truth is unattainable and freedom a con. Racism does that.
Berkeley Journalism denounces the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga., of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and Philando Castile in St. Paul and many others, as well as the attacks on journalists around the country who’ve been targeted as enemies for covering the historic demonstrations protesting those senseless deaths of Black people.
On behalf of our students, staff, and teachers, I voice this institution’s outrage at the decades-long mistreatment of people of color by the criminal justice system in the United States, and demand that measures to bring it to a halt be made an urgent national priority.
On May 29, University of California, Berkeley’s Chancellor Carol Christ issued a powerful and unequivocal statement condemning the lethal crimes that spawned the recent wave of protests, and her statement is one we wholeheartedly endorse and urge you to read.
The UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism repudiates, in all its forms, the cruel, decades-long mistreatment of communities of color at the hands of police who defy their own mandate to protect and to serve the public. The current surge in racist violence comes at a time of dangerous rhetoric encouraging reprisals against the press and attacks on journalists covering the protests. Democracy must not tolerate either.
Respectfully, and in solidarity,
Dean and Professor
UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
Note: My June 2 and June 3, 2020 email responses to students in advance of our public statement of solidarity (above) on June 4, 2020 follow.
Dear Class of 2021:
It was a deeply humbling experience to read your June 2 letter expressing pain and outrage at our failure to speak out institutionally about George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. I’m an educator, and my job is to inspire and to illuminate, not to anger and demoralize the very people I’m here to serve.
It’s a weak excuse to say that Chancellor Carol Christ had condemned the Floyd killing and the cascade of other incidents of racist brutality that are getting the widespread publicity they deserve in a statement she issued on behalf of the entire campus on May 29, and that her powerful denunciation put all of us on record alongside Black Lives Matter. The fact is, the Chancellor’s statement shouldn’t have stood alone, and you have a right to insist that this School too recognize our own duty to you—because you are our students—to acknowledge and embrace your pain, and to reaffirm our determination to make sure the educational experience you get here is sensitive and responsive to your needs as journalists and as moral human beings.
Instead of this statement of regret, I should’ve written the assertion of solidarity that we will make public presently. Your June 2 letter lists a number of specific action items, which senior administrators at the School are working on now with the expectation of drafting a detailed response by the middle of next week.
We utterly rely on each other to make ourselves better, to move us closer to the understandings and skills we need to continue our journeys wisely and effectively. I’m sorry I needed to read your letter to get this right, but I’m grateful to you for writing it.
Dean and Professor,
Graduate School of Journalism
A Message from the Dean: No Retreat
June 2, 2020
To: Members of the Classes of ’21 and ’22
From: Ed Wasserman, Berkeley Journalism dean
Looking out at current events, it’s hard to choke back the conclusion that between righteous anger filling the streets, a lethal pandemic, and deepening economic hardship, the wheels are coming off the wagon.
So what to do? Faced with dysfunction on a massive scale, why should any of us regard our own capacity for personal action as meaningful? And to get down to specifics, why would you think becoming a journalist is an answer?
Let’s start by realizing that inaction may be tempting, but it’s a cop-out, it’s not a moral response. Things will continue to happen, actions will be taken, whether in our name or on our behalf, and it’s time to step up. Paralysis isn’t an option.
My belief is that there has never been a better time to get into journalism, to put publicly significant realities before the public. The obstacles to finding and telling the truth have never been greater, and we have all seen, and continue to see, the harm that is done when people are misinformed, misled, or deceived.
But we also see persuasive evidence that truth matters. The determination of reporters to expose the foolish, self-serving denials of political leaders has enabled health authorities to persist with policies that have held back the contagion and saved many lives. The news media’s insistence that the visual record of police racism and brutality be seen and seen again has helped mobilize a sweeping demand for justice.
That’s why you’re needed.
Some of you are concerned, understandably, about the quality of the education you will get from us at a time when incompatible pressures must be reconciled. We must keep you and your teachers safe from Covid-19 while ensuring the rich interaction and engagement that learning requires. We must foster robust reporting without endangering ourselves or our sources. We must help you pursue mastery of skills without the same high-touch instruction that mastery usually demands.
And we will. We are preparing a broad migration of our instructional program to ensure that we offer an online experience fully equivalent to the high-quality, in-person classes on which this School’s reputation was built. We’ve raised new funding to allow our second-years to conduct summer projects despite drastically reduced employer-funded internships. We’ve got new leadership for the fall in our audio and documentary programs. And the School has already set an extraordinary new milestone, led by our Investigative Reporting Program, by advancing, instead of retreating, in the face of the Covid lockdown and creating an unparalleled partnership with The New York Times to cover the pandemic in all 58 California counties.
The challenges the country is confronting aren’t going to vanish any time soon. But they will never be overcome without the dedication of you, the rising generation of journalists who tell the stories of our time with honesty and eloquence.
We all have work to do.
Dean and Professor,
Graduate School of Journalism