University News

Mock cancels lecture amid student protest

After petition asking Mock to disassociate from Brown/RISD Hillel, trans activist of color cancels

By and
Senior Staff Writers
Thursday, March 17, 2016

Updated March 20, 2016 at 12:35 p.m. 

Janet Mock, a black, native Hawaiian trans woman and activist, announced Wednesday morning that she had canceled her campus talk, “Redefining Realness,” which was originally scheduled for March 21. Mock was invited to be a keynote speaker by Moral Voices, in association with the Brown Center for Students of Color, Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, LGBTQ Center, Sexual Assault Peer Educators, Swearer Center for Public Service, Office of the Chaplains, the Rhode Island School of Design’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement and Brown/RISD Hillel.

Moral Voices is a student group that aims to raise awareness about social justice issues of global importance each year, wrote Moral Voices co-chairs Natalie Cutler ’16 and Rachel Levy ’16 in a written statement published on medium.com.

After the group invited Mock to lecture on campus, students drafted a petition on Change.org asking Mock to disassociate her lecture from Hillel.

Hillel co-sponsored the lecture, and Moral Voices is a student group funded by a grant from within the Hillel budget, said Marshall Einhorn, executive director of Hillel. The statement published by Cutler and Levy states that the group is run “through Brown/RISD Hillel and funded by a private donor.”

The petition argued that the invitation was an attempt to “pinkwash” the history of Israel or “improve Israel’s image and rebrand it as a liberal, modern and ‘hip’ country.” Petitioners saw the move as an attempt to deflect attention from Israel’s previous track record on LGBTQ rights, racism and the occupation of Palestinian territories, the petition stated.

“We do not condone the use of queer people of color as props to hide occupation,” the petition concluded. Petitioners did not intend for Mock to cancel her lecture but instead urged her “to accept Brown students’ sponsorship instead of Hillel’s,” the petition stated.

The petition received 160 signatures, according to a member of Students for Justice in Palestine who wished to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions. He added that the petition was drafted and signed by “a broad coalition” of students from various student groups — including trans and queer students — who felt that there was a contradiction between Mock’s message and what Hillel stands for as an organization.

“With an Israeli government that time and time again is exploiting LGBTQ individuals for the sake of covering up (its) crimes, then it becomes really important that we don’t let a Center who is time and time again supporting the Israeli regime to then claim that they are also supporting LGBTQ voices. There is a serious contradiction there,” the SJP representative said.

“We feel the focus of Janet’s work was lost leading up to the proposed event,” wrote Mock’s representatives in an email to Moral Voices, later shared on the group’s Facebook page. The representatives added that Mock’s visit “was received with controversy and resistance rather than open dialogue and discussion about the issues closest to Janet’s work in movements for trans liberation, racial justice and intersectional feminism.”

Members of the coalition of students that signed the petition spoke directly on the phone to Mock’s agent and made their concerns explicit that “the real concern was Hillel sponsorship,” the SJP representative said. But even if Mock spoke at the Brown/RISD Hillel-sponsored event, “there wasn’t going to be a protest, boycott — nothing like that,” he added.

“What her staffers made clear in the statement was that Janet’s talk was sort of overshadowed by some other issues,” the SJP representative said, adding that “unfortunately we feel that those other issues are inseparable from a Hillel sponsorship.”

“Moral Voices committee members represent diverse identities of sexuality, gender, religious affiliation and ethnic heritages, and we reject the charge that Hillel’s sponsorship invalidates our work,” wrote Cutler and Levy in their statement. They wrote that the group’s association with Hillel’s Israel- and Palestine-related programming was not related to Mock’s lecture and should not deter intersectional engagement within the Jewish community. “Does simply engaging in a Jewish space render one unfit to do justice work?”

Einhorn said the lecture’s affiliation with the Jewish nature of the organization “felt irrelevant to the question of whether Ms. Mock should have spoken at Brown.”

“We wanted to hear from a speaker whose story and message resonates so deeply with members of the Brown community as well as members of the Jewish community,” Einhorn said. “To have that voice effectively silenced is extremely disappointing.”

The SJP representative said the coalition of students who signed the petition “support her decision to cancel.”

Students opposing the petition asking Mock to dissociate her lecture from Hillel’s sponsorship circulated a statement on the same website, Change.org, Wednesday afternoon.  “We were shocked to see the petition circulated against Jewish students’ right to host events addressing queer issues, both because of the petition’s blatant anti-Semitism and because of the disrespect it exhibited for such an important speaker and activist,” the statement read.

President Christina Paxson P’19 sent a community-wide email March 20 to address Mock’s lecture cancellation, stating “I am disappointed that a valuable learning opportunity was lost.” She also noted that “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.” She also stressed that there is no evidence of a link to the recent anti-Semitic and homophobic vandalism in Marcy House Thursday night.

Paxson wrote that she has reached out to Mock to reconsider coming to the University to speak, and she declined. But she said that she will “issue an open invitation” to Mock and that other student organizations are welcome to co-sponsor the lecture if and when she accepts.

  • Willie Sam

    Wow, who could have predicted that the social justice movement at Brown would unite under the common banner of anti-Semitism. With a little reflection, it’s not that hard to figure out. To this movement Jews are white, conspirators behind global capitalism, and perpetrators of colonialism against people of color in the Middle East. It’s an intersectionality trifecta.

  • Louis

    From the petition: ” ***We would like to emphasize that Brown is also a colonizing force in its occupation Native land, specifically that of the Narraganset and Wampanoag people.”

    To this I have three things to say 1. Get over it. What ever happened, if it did, happened over 250 years ago. 2. If you attend Brown, you are part of that occupation. 3. Proof read.

    • Arafat

      I think the Navajo are a colonizing force in its occupation of Native land. After all, the Navajo conquered the Pueblo and the Hopi in their conquest of New Mexico.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Heckler’s Rights
    Do Social Justice Warriors have the right to control who gets to say what, when, and where? That sounds more like factional tyranny than freedom of speech.

    Does the Brown administration favor SJW groups over others? Sure they do. Why?

    • 1st Amend.

      Of course they do. Its a long held tradition of progressives constantly rooting for the underdog regardless of the underdogs position on human rights or democratic values. most Progressives (most) would not want to live with the groups they so stridently fight for. they might get there new Volvo dirty.

  • hm

    It doesn’t seem like the Herald should be granting anonymous interviews to this “broad coalition” of protestors. Casual anti-semitism–the refusal to allow a diverse group of students to engage in justice work simply because they are operating in a Jewish space–is bad enough. But these sentiments are particularly insidious when aired anonymously, erasing any chance of accountability and rendering further conversation impossible.

  • Brown Alumni

    “what Hillel stands for as an organization.”

    Hillel is an organization to help Jewish college students maintain a Jewish identity. That’s literally all that Hillel stands for. There may be people associated with Hillel who believe other things, but at its core, that’s all Hillel stands for. A few years ago, I would have assumed that SJP simply didn’t realize that and thought Hillel had a more tightly defined mission of specifically working to promote the occupation, but it’s pretty clear that SJP actually does realize exactly what Hillel stands for, and it is precisely why they don’t want anyone or anything affiliated with it.

    As Willie says, Jews became white people in America over the last few decades and thus no longer get to embrace their identity in the way other minority groups (with American populations much larger than 2%) in the USA are allowed to. It’s a pretty interesting spot to be in. Far right white supremacists (like the KKK which of course has been in the news lately because it’s former leader endorsed Trump) still very much believe Jews are not white and wants to do to them exactly the same thing it did to African Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries, and on the other side of the spectrum, the far left wants nothing to do with Jews until they prove that they have no allegiance to Israel and absolutely no desire for 1 country on this planet out of the 196 to have Judaism as its official religion while all but 28 have some religion as part of the country identity.

    I wonder if there ever came a day when SJP succeeded in removing Israel from the map, if they would pivot and adopt the stance of the governing body they currently support (Hamas) which will not satisfied by simply removing Israel from the map, but, as they have explicitly stated: want to eradicate Jews entirely.

  • santacruzin

    As a Jewish Brown alum, I find the protesters’ request disingenuous. It’s not true that “an Israeli government … is exploiting LGBTQ individuals for the sake of covering up (its) crimes”. But why is it that nobody accuses other Middle Eastern countries of doing this? It’s because LGBTQ individuals in Israel are free to do what they want, but LGBTQ individuals in other countries are harassed at best, executed at worst.

    There’s an annual Jerusalem gay pride parade, and it’s protected by the Israeli police. Can anyone imagine such a parade in Cairo, let alone in Gaza or Riyadh? Israel should rightly be proud of how it treats the LGBTQ community. It may not be perfect, but it’s on the right track, and far better than its neighbors.

  • Arik Boleli

    What I find ironic is that Janet Mock would be killed in the West Bank or any other Arab country because she is transgender. They are usually thrown off of high buildings. That is how Hamas handles these people. Arik Boleli, Jerusalem

  • Spyder McGee

    The Palestinians are more interested in killing Israelis than seeking peace. People who strap suicide vests to their own children are too f’d up to negotiate with. The Brown protesters are Commie filth

    • Arafat

      Or…

      I have a hard time believing that people who willingly let terrorists strap suicide vests to their children care even one bit about “peace, freedom and justice”.

  • jmoser

    “The petition argued that the invitation was an attempt to ‘pinkwash’ the history of Israel or ‘improve Israel’s image and rebrand it as a liberal, modern and “hip” country.'”

    Because, you know, Israel is so backward compared to the rest of the Middle East.

    • Dan

      And, of course, the entire country is complicit with this pinkwashing agenda. What a conspiracy! Of course, nobody in Israel actually supports LGBQTs — they just pretend to! Those diabolical Jews! Imagine being forced to pretend to have fun and cheer at parades. And they do it because it’s a dictatorship. /snark

  • David Golden

    As a Jewish alumnus of Brown I am heartsick at this blatant display of anti-Semitism. The issue is not any policy of the Israeli government, but the fact that the talk was sponsored by Hillel, an organization for Jewish students. This is the very definition of hatred of Jews. As a college professor, I am deeply saddened to see university campuses relinquish their traditional roles of being crucibles of open, passionate debate. Now, groups of students can anonymously oppose speakers, and can be successful in quenching their voices. All of us who believe in the critical importance of free speech must oppose these trends actively and vocally.

    • JD

      Their objection is apparently that Hillel forbids criticism of the Israeli government. I would like to know who the coalition’s membership is and whether they reserve this treatment for Israel or do the same thing to other organizations considered the world over to be genocidal – such as the US government.

      • David Golden

        At the risk of being presumptuous, I believe you already know the answer to that question.

  • Igor Zalmenovski

    Disgusting. Shame on Brown for even inviting a LGBT person to speak. Don’t they know this offends Palestinians and Muslim nations? After all, Israel is the most unfriendly nation in the Middle East towards gays.

    • Arafat

      Good one. Why can’t Israel be more like the Palestinians who do so much enjoy beating gays to death.

    • Arik Boleli

      Yes, you are correct! The Gay Pride Parade in Israel is a is really a rouse to make people think we accept Gays. Do you know what a Gay Israeli is called? A “Heblew”. Arik Boleli, Jerusalem

  • Sholom

    Since Hillel often acts as a pro-Israel organization (it won’t participate in SJP sponsored events and it boycots Palestinian speakers) the actions of SJP in this instance are fair and legitimate, and not anti Semitic at all.

  • herbcaen

    There is no reason why Hillel should have been a cosponsor of this talk. There is nothing specifically Jewish about it. I am glad she cancelled her talk. More time for STEM subjects