News and Commentary

Brown Students Can Finally Discuss Topics Freely… In a Secret Facebook Group

Students at Brown University set up a secret Facebook group in which they would be able to speak freely about controversial issues- speech that would not have been tolerated “above ground”, according to Jay Nordlinger at the National Review.

The group started last year when the university hosted a debate between “radical feminist” Jessica Valenti and “radical libertarian” Wendy McElroy on the issue of campus rape. The controversy had ensued when campus administrators suspected that McElroy might have the audacity to deny that there was a “culture of rape.”

The president of the university, Christina Paxson, was so fearful that such a blasphemous act such as healthy debate might occur that she announced prior to the debate that she disagreed with whatever McElroy was going to say at the debate. She further encouraged students to attend an “alternative” lecture at the same time, titled “The Research on Rape Culture,” which would bring “more research and facts” proving why rape culture is totally a thing at Brown.

Some people–including writer Wendy McElroy, who will speak with Jessica Valenti at a Janus Forum event next week–have argued that sexual assault is the work of small numbers of predatory individuals whose behaviors are impervious to the culture and values of their communities. I disagree. Although evidence suggests that a relatively small number of individuals perpetrate sexual assault, extensive research shows that culture and values do matter… In order to provide the community with more research and facts about these important issues, students and administrators have worked together to sponsor a lecture by Brown University Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Lindsay Orchowski, entitled The Research on Rape Culture. This presentation will take place at 4:30 pm on Tuesday, November 18th in Wilson 102 as an alternative to the Janus Forum (which will be held at the same time and date in Salomon 101).

Students also set up a safe for those who might be brave enough to attend the debate and could become “damaged” from the emotional “trauma” likely felt after watching the debate.

“Bringing in a speaker like that could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” Brown then-senior Katherine Byron told Judith Shulevitz of the New York Times. Byron added that the safe space “was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.”

The debate did end up occurring as expected and was uploaded to YouTube. As expected, McElroy killed it with an eloquent analysis of why she believed rapists- and not society- must be blamed for incidences of rape, and even included personal background on her harrowing personal experiences of a brutal rape as a teenager.

For some reason Valenti saw it necessary to remove her copy of the debate video from the web. Valenti’s reason was obvious; she was defeated by the truth and she couldn’t handle it.

“I am sick of having to prove the very premise of my entire argument,” she whined after McElroy respectfully crushed her feminist logic in the debate.

Brown is notorious for free speech violations and restrictions in the past. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gave the university a red “speech code rating” after it wrongfully suspended a religious student group in 2006 without substantive reasoning. In October 2013, a lecture by Police commissioner Ray Kelly called “Proactive Policing in America’s Big City” was canceled 30 minutes after it started because it offended students. Just earlier this fall, a group of Brown students wrote in their school newspaper that free speech was okay as long as it did not “guarantee of a platform for all ideas.”

Chris Robotham, a junior at Brown, along with four other students who were tired of the restrictions of healthy dialogue at their college campus, created Reason@Brown for students of all views and opinions to discuss ideas freely without fear of being shouted down. Robotham explained to Nordlinger why it was necessary for his Facebook group to remain secret:

I am willing to put my neck on the line and if people want to say I am some kind of ist, or a violent oppressor on account of my white masculinity, etc., that’s fine, that’s their prerogative, but I think there are a lot of people, including my freshman-year self, who would not be comfortable putting their neck on the line but who, to be perfectly frank, deserve to have the intellectual discussions promised to them in Brown’s advertising and for which they may be paying some six-figure amount.

Marie Willersrud, a business economics major from Oslo and a member of Reason@Brown, told Nordlinger that she came to the United States to study because she wanted free, “unbridled” discussion; but what she received at Brown was not what she had expected.

I have a lot of fun conversations with Americans except when it comes to politics. I find myself in a place where a large percentage of the student body wants to shut down debates that include unpopular opinions, and the university backs them. This is not what I signed up for.

“I think there are a lot of people, including my freshman-year self, who would not be comfortable putting their neck on the line but who, to be perfectly frank, deserve to have the intellectual discussions promised to them in Brown’s advertising and for which they may be paying some six-figure amount.”

Chris Robotham, a junior at Brown, co-creator of Reason@Brown

Shayna Zema, a recent geography graduate at Brown, told The Daily Wire she was disappointed with how tolerance for free speech had regressed at her alma mater and that “in an effort to protect the ‘marginalized victims,’ the university and some students were demonizing others, those who belong to such ‘unsafe spaces.'”

I am incredibly grateful to my time at Brown, to the wonderful friendships I created, and to having the opportunity to explore my passions and curiosity on a global scale; however, hearing about the Reason@Brown and its need for secrecy at this time doesn’t surprise me. In today’s society where the terms bully and victim are interchangeable and people constantly cry out for equality while also demanding recognition as marginalized, it is no surprise that a very liberal university serves as the epicenter for such thought and action.

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