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Berkeley is known for its rich history of student activism. Since the Free Speech Movement that UC Berkeley students instigated back in the 1960s, the protest culture has remained alive and well here on campus. This was the subject of a recent Berkeley Connect Social Welfare discussion.

To begin, graduate student mentor Renee Mack asked students to share their personal experiences with activism. While students were a bit shy at first about speaking up, the conversation quickly picked up when one student brought up the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred last winter.

“I spray-painted my Mustang with the names of black men who had been killed by white police officers, such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown,” recalled one student of her participation in the protests.

Another student shared her experience of not actually participating in the protests, but just being caught up in the crossfire of one. She was eating at a Thai restaurant late at night with her friends on Shattuck Avenue, and was advised to leave by the restaurant owner when news of the violent protests reached them. “People were breaking windows, and the police were out in full force,” she said. “There was glass everywhere. It was really shocking to see.”

This anecdote led to a discussion of whether or not the violent turn the Black Lives Matter protestors took was necessary. One student argued, “The people that were breaking windows of banks weren’t a part of the core Black Lives Matter movement.” However, some still thought the violence tainted the movement. “I have an issue when anger gets misplaced,” explained another student. “You have to consider that destroying a mom-and-pop shop might push them over the edge to bankruptcy, when they have nothing to do with the issues you’re angry about.”

On the other hand, a student raised the question: “When a society or culture has been oppressed for so long, where do they put their frustrations if not breaking buildings? What do we do with that anger?”

Another student shared her various experiences being involved in protests, including a Black Lives Matter march in Oakland that blocked off the freeway. She recalled the sense of camaraderie she felt with the other protestors. “I never felt unsafe at protests except for from the police,” she explained. “Seeing how quickly the police can organize and get out riot gear was disturbing.”

It seemed like everyone had an experience or opinion to share concerning the Black Lives Matter protests. Students discussed the merits and weaknesses of the movement with a heated passion characteristic of those attending a university famous for its activism. Despite the differing opinions that were expressed, the discussion maintained a tone of respect – an admirable feat, considering the controversial topic.

At the end of the hour, rather than rushing out of class as fast as possible, students seemed reluctant to end their discussion. Displaying the unquenchable Berkeley student passion for learning, one student lamented, “I wish we had more time.”

Posted by Madeline Wells, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant