Silencing and “Free” Speech

Brown University. Image.

Today, February 13th, 2018, the Brown Republicans and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs are hosting an event entitled, “The Millennial Conservative: A Conversation with Guy Benson” on Brown’s campus. Benson, a conservative journalist and Fox News contributor is also the co-author of a recently-published book entitled, End of Discussion: How the Left’s Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun). Based on our research into the speaker, we anticipate that Benson will make arguments in support of the freedom of any person to make hateful, oppressive, or damaging remarks based on their constitutionally protected right to free speech.

We will not stand idly by as our proud history of student activism is belittled and the real emotional, physical, and psychological needs of marginalized students are denigrated as illogical and irrelevant. We, the undersigned, are staunchly opposed to this event. We consider Benson’s invitation yet another iteration of a conversation that is misguided, narrow-minded, and explicitly dangerous to the well-being and continued thriving of people of color and other marginalized people at Brown University and the broader community.

So often, popular conversations around free speech focus on the right of people with power or who hold privileged identities (i.e. who are white, or cisgender men, or wealthy, or able bodied, etc.) to espouse hateful rhetoric which actively makes others less safe. Rarely do these mainstream conversations on free speech consider the urgent need for people of color and other marginalized people to speak back against systems of oppression for their own self-preservation.

Silencing is not new to marginalized communities. Historically and currently, marginalized people have been intimidated, harrassed and subjected to violence simply for speaking out. Unsurprisingly, examples of this particular form of oppression are often obfuscated by the privileges of the narrators of history. The following links can be used by those looking to educate themselves on this particular and pervasive form of oppression:

We know, thanks to the tireless activism of students of color on this campus, and to the documents their work has produced, that Brown has never been a welcoming or supportive place for people of color. Even under the framework of the Brown University Student Code of Conduct, a document which we continue to question, this event violates community standards. According to section XI of the Code of Student Conduct, Brown University students cannot support “behavior that is intended to or can reasonably be expected to result in significant emotional or psychological harm.” If “Brown is [committed] to transforming the policies, structures, and practices that have led to the exclusion—rather than the meaningful inclusion—of members of our community,” an event such as today’s is clearly unacceptable.

While Brown’s Watson Institute is providing a podium for the author of a chapter titled “Race Baiting as a Silencing Strategy,” members of the Providence community, alongside Brown’s chapter of the NAACP, are mobilizing in response to the proliferation of racist and fascist fliers on College Hill and the East Side, just last week. What free speech can there be for people of color when calls for white power are being dispersed through the streets? At the very least, the timing of this event reveals the extent to which violence is enabled, shielded, legitimized, and minimized under the guise of ‘free speech.’

There is a wealth of writing on the inextricable connection between Benson’s ideologies — fiscal conservatism and free market ideology — and real, tangible, state violence against marginalized communities. Such thinking is fundamentally at odds with any intention to pursue real justice for structurally and historically marginalized people. Arguments like Benson’s enable white supremacist and fascist ideas to fester and flourish by defending the speech of already empowered people over and above any concern for justice or histories of violence.

How does Benson’s claim to free speech and his dismissal of the racism at the heart of ‘free’ speech debates, help our community heal, learn, and grow? OUR institution cannot simultaneously honor this speaker and claim a commitment to change.

It is the responsibility of every member of the Brown community to look deeply within themselves and within their surroundings to see and speak against subtle and not-so-subtle traces of white supremacy and fascism that exist or are enabled in our community. White supremacy and fascism are not outside problems. These are Brown University problems and we must be unequivocal and unrelenting in our pursuit of their eradication.

 

Signed,

Naomi Chasek-Macfoy ‘18

Paloma Orozco Scott ‘18

Bethlehem Desta ‘18

Tal Frieden ‘19.5

Ilan Desai-Geller ‘18

Sophie Kupetz ‘19.5

Emma Galvin ‘18.5

Natalie Lerner ‘18.5

Maria Russo ‘18

Malana Krongelb ‘19

Tali Ginsburg ‘18.5

Anisha Rathod ‘18

Erica Adarkwa ‘18

Lucia Adami ‘19

Sofia Robledo Rower ‘18

Zachary Kligler ‘20

Andrea Vega Troncoso ‘20

Chiara Arellano ‘20

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