The Chinese Student and Scholar Association (CSSA) held an event on Library Walk yesterday afternoon in opposition to the Dalai Lama as the 2017 senior commencement speaker for UC San Diego.
“We want people to hear the other side of the story about the Dalai Lama,” said CSSA Chair Mark Ji. “We got a different perspective in our education than you do in the U.S. We want to share a different perspective.”
The official UCSD announcement of the Dalai Lama as a speaker referred to him as “the exiled spiritual head and leader of the Tibetan people” and “a man of peace.” He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and regularly travels the world speaking about issues such as peace, Buddhism, and Tibet.
The CSSA said their goal in tabling on Library Walk was twofold: to educate students about how they feel disrespected by the decision and to advocate for the university to consult with student associations before deciding on a speaker. In a statement released on WeChat the day before, the CSSA maintained staunchly that the tabling event was not a protest, but an attempt to “present Dalai Lama’s controversial side from an objective perspective.”
A group of largely Western students gathered to argue with the presenters, asking questions about issues such as Chinese brutality toward the Tibetan people and the specifics of the CSSA’s objections toward the Dalai Lama. Several members of the CSSA strenuously objected when one student referred to a “genocide” against Tibetans.
“Where did you hear that?” one member of the CSSA demanded. “It’s not true.” This same member said students at UCSD had told her she was “brainwashed” by the Chinese government, a charge she strongly contested.
“What you hear in America is subjective as well,” she said.
Posters bearing titles such as “The Chinese students’ attitude towards the Dalai Lama” or “The Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader” listed information about both the Dalai Lama himself and the response of Chinese students to his presence. CSSA members also brought up other talking points as well.
“There was a massacre under his name,” one of the members told the assembled crowd, and elaborated that she was referring to the events that occurred in March 2008. The Tibetan unrest at that time resulted in 18 deaths and hundreds of injuries, largely against Han Chinese people, the dominant ethnic group in China.
“We want to be treated evenly, as members of this university,” said Tian Song, an officer in the CSSA. “Our parents are flying 16 hours to come here and commencement is a big occasion that only happens once.” This perspective was echoed by other CSSA members, and highlighted on the posters, one of which was entirely devoted to showcasing what Chinese UCSD students have said on social media about the Dalai Lama.
“But is this a Chinese university or an American university?” said Josh Beneventi, a socio-cultural anthropology major from the United States. Beneventi expressed frustration with the presenters from the CSSA, saying that he hadn’t seen any evidence of wrongdoing by the Dalai Lama. “We care about logic and facts. This is an institution of learning. Maybe they could learn something too.”
The Dalai Lama will speak at two events at UCSD, once at commencement on June 17 and in a public event the night before. The CSSA claims they are not planning any organized protest at the commencement ceremony itself, because “that would be very disrespectful and disruptive.”
Jaz Twersky is the Editor-in-Chief of The Triton.