The shout down at Brown has led to the creation of the “Committee on the Events of October 29,” said Brown President Christine Paxson today.
The committee will “identify issues that may have contributed to the disruption” and “address the broader issues of campus climate, free expression, and dialogue across difference,” she wrote.
Paxson authored a critical letter on the night of the incident. In this one she writes, “Making an exception to the principle of open expression jeopardizes the right of every person on this campus to speak freely and engage in open discussion. We must develop and adhere to norms of behavior that recognize the value of protest and acknowledge the imperative of the free exchange of ideas within a university.”
Conversely, Martha Yager of the the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that promotes “peace with justice … through active nonviolence” wrote an impassioned defense of the activists who shouted down Ray Kelly last week in today’s print edition of the Providence Journal (online version here).
“The students and members of the Providence community refused to be devalued. They refused to accept business as usual,” she wrote. “That act of refusal has forced conversation within Brown, and indeed in the larger community, that has the potential of being life changing and profoundly educational for the community.”
Andrew Tillett-Saks writes that social change only happens when civil discourse and civil disobedience work in tandem.
“The implication that masterful debate is the engine of social progress could not be more historically unfounded,” he writes in this post. “The free flow of ideas and dialogue, by itself, has rarely been enough to generate social progress. It is not that ideas entirely lack social power, but they have never been sufficient in winning concessions from those in power to the oppressed. The eight-hour workday is not a product of an incisive question-and-answer session with American robber barons.”