Dear Members of the Brown Community,
I regret that Janet Mock, a leading activist on transgender rights, decided not to speak at Brown University after a small number of students petitioned her to disavow a student group associated with the Brown-RISD Hillel, which was a co-sponsor of the event. I respect her decision to avoid having her talk be overshadowed by an issue unrelated to her work. However, I am disappointed that a valuable learning opportunity was lost. Brown University’s Statement on Academic Freedom for Faculty and Studentsaffirms that faculty members and students have the right to invite speakers of their choice to campus. This includes Moral Voices, the student group associated with Hillel that issued the invitation to Ms. Mock. Brown is strengthened by the expression of a full range of views on difficult and even divisive issues. However, while we cannot and should not prevent any member of our community from signing a petition, it is counter to Brown’s norms and values for expressions of dissent to be targeted at a student group because of its religious affiliation.
My office has been in touch with Ms. Mock’s speaking agent to ask her to reconsider her decision not to come to Brown, but she declined to do so at this time. This week, I will issue an open invitation to Ms. Mock to visit Brown and, when and if she accepts, I would be glad to have any student organization join me in co-sponsoring her talk.
I want to emphasize that there is absolutely no evidence that the cancellation of the Mock event is related to the homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti that appeared in Marcy Hall last week. However, taken together, these two events are deeply troubling. They come at a time when the nation and colleges across the country are grappling with concerns about injustice against individuals based on religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender expression. Brown University is committed to maintaining an environment in which individuals from all backgrounds and beliefs are welcome and valued, and where a diversity of views co-exist in a spirit of open inquiry, trust and mutual respect. I encourage all members of our community to join me in continuing to uphold this commitment.
---Christina H. Paxson
Professor of Economics and Public PolicyBrown University