Columns

Corvese ’15: Enough with the committees, already

By
Opinions Columnist

 

The month of October saw events that shook Brown to its core. Between the Corporation’s decision to not divest the endowment from holdings in major coal companies to the protests against New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s lecture, the Brown community grew polarized, and beliefs from all sides were challenged.

Students responded by protesting and making their opinions heard. President Christina Paxson created committees.

First conceived last semester, the Environmental Change Task Force was established in response to the fight for coal divestment to “supplement the work of our standing committee on campus sustainability,” Paxson wrote. And after protesters rallied against “stop-and-frisk” policing policies inside and outside of List Art Center — ultimately shutting down his lecture — Paxson proposed the Committee on the Events of October 29th to suggest ways that Brown can “maintain an inclusive and supportive environment for all of our students while upholding our deep commitment to the free exchange of ideas.”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to take more action on controversial issues. But these committees ignore the effort and accomplishments of student groups themselves. Are student voices so inferior that they are not valid until they bear the official University seal?

Even more disconcerting is the fact that these committees arose only after the student body attempted to thwart the status quo. Climate change has always been a reality, but it wasn’t until the angry letters and protesters arrived that the administration sprung into action. And though the community forum on October 30th allowed students to voice thoughts on racial profiling, administrators’ thoughts quickly bounced back to discipline and disappointment.

Establishing administrative committees for each and every issue at Brown suggests that the only way to achieve change is through compliance and bureaucracy. While it may appear as a supportive response to controversy, it ruthlessly strips legitimacy from existing student groups. These student groups can continue their work, but the committees, happily speckled with faculty members and just a handful of students, will take “official” action.

Certainly much of Brown’s institutional significance is due to our distinguished faculty. But an equal, if not greater, part of it belongs to our passionate students.

On the environmental front, Brown Divest Coal fought to raise awareness of coal’s harm, both on campus and in the community. Other student groups such as EcoReps, the Sustainable Food Initiative and Beyond the Bottle, just to name a few, work on different environmental issues to promote campus sustainability.

But these groups can step aside now, since Brown has created The Committee!

Last week, students protested Kelly’s lecture. They fought against the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institution’s decision to provide a speaking platform to the champion of stop-and-frisk — a policy that contributes to racial profiling and disproportionately affects underrepresented minorities. These students succeeded in their goal of having the lecture canceled and opened a campus-wide discourse on a variety of widespread issues.

But why bother with discussion when there are conduct violations? Leave it to The Committee!

I am especially baffled by the member selection process for this committee, which will occur “in consultation with the Faculty Executive Committee and relevant student groups.” It seems ironic that a committee designed to address issues of social justice would employ such elitism — elitism that can fracture existing groups on campus.

Not selected to be a member? Keep on working with other students, but remember — you are not part of The Committee!

Only time will tell whether or not these committees are more than an administrative publicity stunt in response to controversial issues. Perhaps mine is a cynical view, and perhaps these committees actually will lead to progress at Brown. But my concerns about their fates remain. Who determines whether or not an issue deserves a committee? What impact will a committee have when there is another pressing conflict that grabs attention instead? How much will these committees matter weeks, months and years from now when October’s events fade from the public eye?

The administration’s approach to recent issues is well-intentioned but misguided. These committees imply there is something wrong with how Brown students already mobilize their passion. Regardless of the outcome of Brown Divest Coal’s efforts or those who protested against Kelly, they both make one thing clear: students don’t need committees to make our voices heard.

It should not be students’ responsibility to join what administrators consider to be an appropriate committee. The faculty and administration should join us.

 

Gabriella Corvese ’15 is developing the Committee on Column Commentary and can be reached at gabriella_corvese@brown.edu.

  • man the monster

    “the administration’s approach to recent issues is well-intentioned”

    dunno if i’d go that far

  • rohta

    well said!