An Actual Debate at Brown

Debates on campus are now as rare as white truffles, and the reason is fairly obvious: as essentially homogeneous liberal outposts in a center-right nation, the campuses see no need to allow adversaries and dissidents to speak. So it’s a surprise to see that Brown University hosted a debate on “How Should Colleges Handle Sexual Assault?” The event, held yesterday, featured author Jessica Valenti, late of Feministing, who believes “Rape is a standard result of a culture mired in misogyny,” and Libertarian Wendy McElroy, an editor of  ifeminists.com and author of “The Big Lie of a ‘Rape Culture”.”

Since this is Brown, where then NYC police commissioner Ray Kelly was shouted down and prevented  from speaking, the planning for the debate came with several indicators as to how students are supposed to feel:

*University president Christina Paxson sent a campus-wide email saying she thought people like McElroy were wrong in thinking that sexual assault is the work of small numbers of predators impervious to culture and  community values.

*Brown set aside a “safe space” so students who might feel threatened or rendered unwell  by arguments in the debate can recover from the ordeal.

*An assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, Lindsay Orchowski, scheduled a separate event at the exact time of the Tuesday debate to discuss “Research on Rape Cuture,” presumably to draw students away from arguments they might find disagreeable.

*A few who defend free speech—an  exotic position at Brown—did so in traditional “know-your enemy” prose. One said, “I think that instead of silencing opinions, by listening and understanding how  to deconstruct and debate them effectively, that ‘s the best thing a Brown student could do.” No, the best thing to do at a debate is to keep an open mind and maybe learn something.

John Leo

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

11 thoughts on “An Actual Debate at Brown

  1. *University president Christina Paxson sent a campus-wide email saying she thought people like McElroy were wrong…”

    This says a great deal about how one becomes President of Brown, and the people who select the President.

  2. *Brown set aside a “safe space” so students who might feel threatened or rendered unwell by arguments in the debate can recover from the ordeal.

    Let’s read that again.
    “feel threatened or rendered unwell by arguments”
    I weep for the future.

  3. For those readers who are unaware, “Brown” is the colloquial nickname for Crayola College, a four-year community college on the east side of Providence, Rhode Island. Crayola has no curriculum, and most grades are limited to P (for Pat on the Head) and F (for Feeling Blue). At Crayola, you are more likely to meet someone studying Peanut Butter Sandwiches: The Woman’s Perspective, or Essays in Hispanic Pantomime, than Milton, Spenser, Pope, or Wordsworth.

    Crayola College serves mainly as a finishing school for Upper Class Pole Climbers, Upper Class Interior Decorators, Upper Class Social Locusts, and Upper Class Twits. Presidents are chosen only from past Twits of the Year.

  4. Somehow, these “safe spaces” never seem very accommodating to people who are routinely ostracized on campus, i.e. people who don’t adhere to the politically correct party line.

  5. I’ve had two Brown graduates – both cum laude – work for me. Neither could put two rational thoughts together in a month and both showed up with an outsized sense of entitlement.

    Neither lasted two weeks.

    I will never, ever, hire another one.

    1. It’s getting to the point where certain degrees from certain schools are strong indicators of incompetence. For my part, I won’t ever hire a “women’s studies” major from any school, and I won’t take anyone who ostensibly studied economics at Harvard or MIT.

  6. You’re being too optimistic, there’s plenty of time for a group to decide that some people shouldn’t be heard and get it shut down before the scheduled date.

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