There’s something about the spring, so the Brown-ism goes. The campus starts to bloom, the weather finally thaws and students look forward to spring break in warmer climates.
But nobody who uses that phrase is talking about the weather.
In March 2001, The Herald printed an advertisement submitted by conservative commentator and author David Horowitz titled “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks – and Racist, Too!” The ensuing controversy was the last and greatest of a series of scandals that rocked several spring semesters in a five-year period starting with the Adam Lack case in March 1996. Nothing – not Lack, not Ebony Thompson, not even President E. Gordon Gee fleeing to Vanderbilt – proved as divisive, or brought the same amount of international media attention to College Hill.
More than reparations
Brown may now be synonymous with the Horowitz ad controversy, but it wasn’t the first campus to grapple with the ad’s implications.
By the time the ad reached Brown, many colleges had already rejected it and the Daily Californian at the University of California-Berkeley had published a front-page apology for running the ad. Only one college newspaper, the Herald Badger of the University of Wisconsin had published the ad without any kind of apology, despite heavy protest from outraged student groups.
Katherine Boas ’02 said she and the other Herald editors, Brooks King ’02, Patrick Moos ’02 and Jahred Adelman ’02, were aware that Horowitz would likely submit the ad to the Herald. The editors decided that if the ad came to them, they would run it.
“A couple days later it did – and we did,” she said. “I just don’t know that we anticipated it would have such consequences,” she said.
The ad appeared in the March 13 issue of the Herald. Some students found two of Horowitz’s arguments particularly offensive.
The ad stated that slavery had existed worldwide for centuries, “but in the thousand years of its existence, there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Christians – Englishmen and Americans – created one.” It also concluded that “America’s African-American citizens are the richest and most privileged black people alive.”
On March 14, over 60 students came to the Herald office demanding to speak to the newspaper’s leadership. The next day, a coalition of student groups distributed a petition around campus that condemned the Herald’s decision to print the ad and demanded that the paper give $725 – the amount they believed Horowitz had paid for the ad – to minority groups on campus. In addition, the petition called for The Herald to give the coalition a free full-page ad to “educate the greater Brown community on related issues.”
On March 14, coalition members met face to face with the Herald editors and made their demands. According to Boas, coalition leaders “basically said ‘give in to our demands or your paper won’t be read.”‘
The Herald editors refused.
“We weren’t going to give in because of their threat,” Boas said. “We weren’t going to give in at all.”
The following morning, coalition members took 4,000 copies of The Herald from 10 distribution points. In place of the newspapers they left a flier stating: “We are using this action as an opportunity to show our community at Brown that our newspaper is not accountable to its supposed constituents. It is a newspaper run by Brown-student opportunists and careerists who are completely unaccountable to the University’s aims and its student body.”
On March 16, a Saturday, the Herald reprinted 1,000 copies of the stolen Friday paper and Herald staffers handed them to students in the Ratty lobby.
According to Brian Rainey ’04, a Herald columnist who supported the coalition in 2001, the decision to steal the newspapers was not based solely on the Horowitz ad. Rainey said he thought the coalition’s grievances were well-founded and that many minority groups on campus were unhappy with Herald coverage of minority events, lack of minority representation on the Herald staff and perceived racism on the part of the Herald.
“I don’t really think the issue was about reparations or freedom of speech,” Rainey said. “I think it was about racism at Brown and racism in society and a lot of students thought this ad was white (supremacy) in disguise.”
Rainey said that at the time, he worried the act of stealing the papers would eclipse the coalition’s message. Older students, however, were tired of what they viewed as The Herald’s racism and not as concerned about having to explain their actions in the future, he said.
Three years after the ad was first published, the former editors of The Herald maintain their stance that Horowitz had the right to have his opinions – however controversial – published.
When asked whether he would print the ad today, Adelman responded: “I would do it over and over again if I had to.”
The University reacts
On March 16, the University issued a statement supporting The Herald: “Consistent with its commitment to the free exchange of ideas, the University recognizes and supports The Herald’s right to publish any material it chooses, even if that material is objectionable to members of the campus community.”
Sheila Blumstein, then Interim President of the University, told The Herald in April 2004 she supported the free exchange of ideas and that The Herald had a right to print the ad. But she said Herald staff may not have handled the issue as diplomatically as they could have.
She expressed regret that national media coverage of the freedom of the press issue overshadowed both academic debate about reparations and the coalition’s grievances.
Associate Professor of American Civilization James Campbell spoke out against The Herald’s decision to run the ad in 2001.
Today, he describes Horowitz as “a person who throws hand grenades” by publishing inflammatory material to provoke an irrational response from opponents.
Campbell said he felt the editors had deliberately attempted to elicit a knee-jerk reaction from students on campus in an effort to establish themselves as champions of free speech. He called their decision to publish the ad “an act of deliberate provocation” and said the students who stole the papers “acted according to script, acted stupidly.”
The former editors of the Herald denied this accusation.
Boas said that accepting the ad was a business transaction, just like any other ad, and subject to the same scrutiny.
“I don’t understand why some people on the Brown campus thought at the time and apparently still continue to think that accepting the ad from David Horowitz constituted some sort of agenda on our part,” she said. “We accepted the ad because it was proposed to us. It was not anything more or less than that. … It was just an ad.”
Campbell criticized The Herald for exploiting a moment of hot-headedness on the part of coalition members. He said the Herald editors knew that the papers would be stolen and sent photographers to distribution sights.
“The next day it was all over the national media,” he said.
The Herald editors also denied this accusation.
“That is an out and out lie and he is a liar,” King said.
According to King, a student who was not affiliated with The Herald was passing by one of the sites where students were stealing papers and took a photo. When the student saw the story reported in the national media, he contacted The Herald saying he had a picture, King said. He said the student who took the picture wished to remain anonymous and was not credited with the picture in The Herald.
King described the student’s taking the picture as “deliciously fortuitous and coincidental.”
Boas, King and Adelman each said that despite the coalition’s warnings that the paper would not be read, they did not know copies would be stolen.
“The threat was unspecific and we had no clue,” Adelman said.
Race relations today
Campbell said he felt the controversy the ad sparked fit into a larger framework of students not knowing how to address complicated historical, political and ethical issues.
“There is a tendency to reduce issues to the most simple, starkest alternatives, so people don’t have to think,” he said.
Campbell, who is chairman of the Committee on Slavery and Justice, said that while the formation of the Committee is not a direct result of the Horowitz ad, he hopes that it will give students and faculty a chance to discuss issues of slavery and reparations in a less polarized way.
Campbell said he felt that if Horowitz were to submit the ad today, he would support the newspaper’s printing it. Now that the University has formed the Committee on Slavery and Justice and is hosting an open discussion of the topic, the University must welcome varying opinions on the issue, he said.
Rainey said he feels race relations at Brown are still sub par.
“The University has so much work to do in terms of inclusion of minorities, working class students and other people,” he said.
Horowitz put Brown’s progress in soothing racial tension to the test with his on-campus lecture in October 2003. His visit was marked by small-scale protests outside of Salomon and the unveiling of a coalition-produced documentary about the controversy. The reaction – or lack thereof – marked a huge contrast to the controversy his advertisement in The Herald caused in 2001.
This year, “the dissent was uniquely tailored to him,” Stascavage said. Horowitz aims to incite people with his opinions, he said, and student groups did not want to give Horowitz that satisfaction. Another key difference, Jablonski said, was that this time people could engage Horowitz with questions and their own opinions instead being unable to respond to his advertisement.
Jablonski attributed the concurrence of many campus controversies between 1997 and 2001, from Adam Lack to Ebony Thompson to Horowitz, to an element of chance.
“Sometimes campuses will have several flash points all at one time,” she said. “There does seem to be a thing about the spring at Brown.”