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Brown Student: ‘Don’t Stereotype Us’

From the mailbag:

I am a current student at Brown University, a member of the class of 2017, and I have spent about a year reading your blog. Short story, your blog has been quite influential in my intellectual formation. I discovered it when I was a senior in high school and have continued reading it. It has provoked countless moments of intellectual reflection on my part, forcing me to question views I held as sacrosanct. It has been an incredibly fruitful relationship, one that has helped me turn from a New Deal liberal to a Kirkian conservative.

I read your post today about Brown and I thought I would add some facts to it. I want to present the actual administrative response, not just the response of the head of a single institute at the University. First off, an administrator got on stage afterwards and denounced the actions of the crowd, and more importantly, President Christina Paxson sent around an email to the community shortly after the incident decrying it. Here is most of the text of here email [I omitted the first paragraph which was a summary of events].

“This is a sad day for the Brown community. I appreciate that some members of our community objected to the views of our invited speaker. However, our University is – above all else – about the free exchange of ideas. Nothing is more antithetical to that value than preventing someone from speaking and other members of the community from hearing that speech and challenging it vigorously in a robust yet civil manner.

As is the case with virtually every lecture or event on this campus, the publicly stated program was for Commissioner Kelly to speak for a short amount of time followed by nearly an hour of questions and answers on any topic. Many students and other community members who strongly oppose policies and initiatives of the New York City Police Department were prepared to present their perspectives and arguments to Commissioner Kelly. Not only was Commissioner Kelly denied the right to speak, members of our community were denied their right to challenge him. That is unfair to everyone involved and disrespectful to the rights we all embrace and should be vigilant in upholding as members of an academic community.

The content of speech is often offensive to us as individuals and as community members. We have seen other instances on campus just this week of the use of symbols associated with some of the most heinous atrocities in human history to make a political point. Those symbols and posters were deeply offensive to many of us, including me, yet we responded to it by making our position and views known to others through the vigorous expression of values and ideas. Challenging views, arguments, and speech with which we disagree is expected in our community; doing so with intellectual rigor, careful analysis, and a commitment to respectful dialogue and discussion is also an expectation of our community.

I will contact Commissioner Kelly to convey my deepest regret for the manner in which he was treated on our campus this afternoon. I have asked Vice President for Campus Life & Student Services Margaret Klawunn to work with faculty and students to convene a forum for the campus to discuss our values and expectations as a community further in the coming days.

Brown’s character and culture calls for confronting pressing societal issues through education, activism, engagement, and rigorous discourse. Protest is welcome, but protest that infringes on the rights of others is simply unacceptable. We must work together to sustain this and the other core values that define us as a community.”

It is really easy to simply reduce an entire institution or place to a caricature. It increases our own feelings of self-satisfaction and moral or intellectual superiority. I should know, I do it all the time. You, in fact, helped me stop caricaturing the American South. So I won’t take what you said personally. While there most certainly are a good portion of kindergarteners on this campus, it is a varied and eclectic place, full of sincere individuals. The overwhelming feeling you get on this campus is that it is full of people in the throes of trying to figure things out. Yes, that creates problems and uncomfortable situations and even disgraceful episodes like the one with Ray Kelly, but these are not mortal sins, and they should not cause the writing off of an entire university. Kindergarteners don’t have it all figured out and we shouldn’t expect them to. They require forgiveness. I know that I have felt many times, in only the few months that I have been here, some serious anger towards people who, in my view, wish to destroy the Western tradition, something that is of utmost value to me, or those that denigrate Christianity. At best, I want to write them off, and at worst, I want to scream at them and tell them that they are useless and don’t deserve to be here. But I have learned to restrain myself, to consider that these are human beings, full of depth and nuance and complexity which should humble, rather than anger, me. I think if you spent some time on this campus you would realize that it isn’t such a horrible place, and that neither the institution nor the people are worthy of your dismissal.

What a thoughtful letter. Thank you for sending it.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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