The 10th Anniversary Spotlight Series highlights alumni, faculty, students and friends of the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies who are agents of change in their communities and careers and have contributed to the vibrancy of the Institute.
This spring, Undergraduate Fellows Randy Cantz and Samantha Behar co-taught a student-led course: The Dangers of Online Hate. The course investigated various forms of online hate and empowered students to act as agents of change and critical consumers of online content by learning to spot misinformation, disinformation, and fake news on the Internet.
What has the Institute added to your time at Cal?
Randy: The Institute has been a great place to call home for the last two years. I’ve always felt a strong connection to the other Undergraduate Fellows and the faculty, and everyone has been warm and inclusive. One of my biggest regrets in my Cal experience was not joining the Institute earlier, because it really provides a wonderful community on campus. We were exposed to world-class thinkers, received mentorship, and had such an amazing community that always supported us. And, while we were in person, the food was phenomenal.
Sammy: I joined the Institute during the second semester of my sophomore year. At that time, I’d already been involved in the Jewish community at Berkeley. I was talking with some older students who were involved in the Institute’s Undergraduate Fellowship and they shared incredible stories of their experiences, including the interesting events they hosted and connections they had made. I was really excited to join the fellowship as it brought together my interests in Judaism, Israel, and law. From the first semester I joined, I have had the rewarding experience of working with intelligent and driven fellows. Overall, being a fellow has allowed me the opportunity to expand my leadership skills and dive into my interests in a way I wouldn’t have been able to without the Institute.
Randy, why were you both drawn to study the intersection of antisemitism and technology?
I have always been interested in the way technology influences our daily lives. Having an opportunity to work with some of the most well-respected experts in the field and engage with them critically on issues from hate speech regulation to antisemitism has been so fascinating. The rates of antisemitism on social media has been increasing over the last few years, and much of the conversation now focuses on the role that social platform algorithms have to play in this increase. The good news is, we have ways to mitigate this rise by engaging in counter-speech, which is something we discussed at length in our DeCal. We also need to make sure we counter this speech while being careful not to suppress other people’s points of view. Having the opportunity to discuss all of these multifaceted issues at length with other students was simply amazing. Teaching a class took a lot of time and effort, but the result was something that made that effort well worth it. It’s been incredibly rewarding to read our end-of-semester survey and see just how much students learned and got out of the class.
Sammy, why is this topic interesting to be covering with Berkeley students?
At the root of this class was the question, “Where is the line between free speech and hate speech?” We had legal experts come to our class to talk about that fine line at length. In the process of mitigating hate, it’s important to step back and ask if you are impeding on the First Amendment. UC Berkeley is the home of the Free Speech Movement, and as we have seen in the last four years, there have been several instances of inflammatory speakers coming to campus who walk the line we mentioned very closely. We often see that those speakers invoke a lot of passion—both in their supporters and detractors—which can make it difficult to have these very nuanced conversations. Our DeCal sought to have these conversations in an academic setting, drawing on the opinions of experts in the field who have spent their careers studying speech.
Sammy, how did the Institute help to facilitate the management of the DeCal?
The Institute was very involved in the planning stages of the DeCal, especially when it came to mapping out the syllabus. Professor Ken Bamberger (the Institute’s Faculty Co-Director) was the faculty advisor for the course, and he was able to look over the syllabus, edit it, and make decisions about the structure. The Institute also gave our course added credibility, especially in reaching out to speakers. We were able to hear from some really interesting guest lecturers, like Emerson Sykes of the ACLU who spoke about the difference between freedom of speech and hate speech, Professor Chris Hoofnagle and Jennifer Urban who touched on cybersecurity, and Vlad Khaykin from the ADL, who spoke on antisemitism and technology. I feel like both Randy and I would have felt a little lost in this huge, daunting process if it weren’t for the Institute’s constant support.
You both just graduated from Cal, congrats! What’s next?
Sammy: I am studying for the LSAT and am planning to apply to law school in the next year or so. Additionally, I will be working at the Institute this summer!
Randy: I am doing the same as Sammy. I’ll be studying for the LSAT and applying to law schools, and I am actively looking for jobs now. I’m also working for the Institute over the summer!
The Helen Diller Institute houses two core programs, the Berkeley Program on Israel Studies, a nationally-recognized initiative for the study of Israel, and the Berkeley Program on Jewish Law, Thought and Identity, the only program of its type in the western United States.
Together the Institute’s programs promote student and faculty engagement by developing opportunities for research, programming, and mentorship; by bringing visiting faculty and scholars to UC Berkeley; and by organizing colloquia, programs, and classes to strengthen academic inquiry and discourse across the Berkeley campus.
The Institute was launched in 2011, and draws its 22-member faculty committee from Political Science, Sociology, Economics, History, Jewish Studies, Music, as well as the Schools of Law, Journalism, and Business.