The University of California, San Diego (UCSD), announced earlier this month that it will invite the Dalai Lama to offer the keynote address at the university’s commencement ceremony in June, causing dissatisfaction with many Chinese students.
Chancellor Pradeep Khosla called the Dalai Lama “a man of peace,” and he was thankful the Dalai Lama will share his compassionate messages with the university’s graduates and their families. But China has long insisted that the Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the cloak of religion with the aim of breaking Tibet away from China, and many Chinese students feel the invitation is a slap in the face.
Bonnie Glaser, Director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, views the protest as Chinese students trying to limit free speech in America. “Let those Chinese students prevent freedom of speech in their own country. Not here. Not ever,” she wrote on Twitter. But many Chinese students view the situation differently, and the practice of protesting commencement speakers is nothing new. In an opinion piece for the student-operated newspaper UCSD Guardian, Ruixuan Wang wrote, “The main reason why many Chinese students are upset is that our university shows little consideration about cultural respect, as he is a politically sensitive person in China.”
A group of Chinese students plan to meet with the university’s chancellor to discuss the content of the upcoming speech, according to Quartz, after the chancellor invited them for a meeting on February 15. According to a UCSD student and a principal member of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association who spoke to Quartz, the group does not plan to ask the chancellor to disinvite the Dalai Lama. Instead, the group plans to request that the chancellor “send out statements that clarify the content of Dalai Lama’s speech,” “make sure his speech has nothing to do with politics,” and “stop using words like ‘spiritual leader’ or ‘exile’” to describe the Dalai Lama.
Commencement day should be a time of celebration, not of division. In 2014, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed out of her speech at Rutgers University in order not to spoil students’ gradation day. “Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” Rice said. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.” Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, gave a similar response after backing out of her speech at Smith College.
Many Chinese students feel their culture should be respected too, even if many Americans are biased against China. “Commencement is a landmark of our life. Our family members are coming all the way from China...to celebrate with us. The Dalai Lama, as a political icon, is viewed differently in our country. We want to spend a fantastic time with our family during the commencement, but his presence will ruin our joy,” wrote Wang.
(Aerial View of UC San Diego toward west. Photo source:http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu)