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Columns

Julian Park ’12: Calling out the misinformed

By
Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This past Monday, Jonathan Topaz ’12 wrote a column (“SDS’ golden opportunity,” Sept. 14) urging Students for a Democratic Society to organize against the U.S.’s occupation of Afghanistan. As a member of that organization, I too have a “quick piece of advice to the new Class of 2013”: be wary of uninformed columnists for The Herald.

I’d like to use this space to debunk some of the misconceptions in that column. First, SDS has never labeled the Brown Corporation, the final decision-making power here at Brown, either “evil” or “arch-conservative.” The descriptors that SDS uses are “undemocratic,” “inaccessible” and “nontransparent.” Still, “liberal” hardly seems to describe two of the Corporations highest profile members —  Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal ‘91.5 is a pro-lifer who supports intelligent design in public schools, and Brown’s Chancellor Thomas Tisch is a board  member of a conservative think-tank called the Manhattan Institute.

Nevertheless, the fact that Brown’s Corporation is inaccessible, undemocratic and nontransparent isn’t the point. The problem with these things is the practical implications that they have for the everyday lives of Brown community members, potential community members and the world at large.

Topaz points out that international student aid has been increased by 25 percent source, yet doesn’t mention that admissions for those students are still not need-blind. While it is commendable that the Corporation elected the first African-American President of an Ivy, this masks the fact that only seven percent source of students at Brown share Ruth Simmons’ race (6.4 percent lower than US demographics, and 7.54 percent lower than Providence source). Even in the year following the onset of the biggest recession since the Great Depression, tuition for Brown was still hiked three percent. I don’t know about you, but I have friends that weren’t able to come back this year after the hike.

Those students still attending may be curious about where their tuition dollars are going. As a matter of standard practice, Brown keeps investments a secret. We don’t know whether we are benefiting from the growing coffers of war-profiteering arms manufactures, the continued occupation of Palestine, Iraq and, yes, Afghanistan, or union-busting, employee-abusing hotel chains like HEI (which Brown’s own Student Labor Alliance has ascertained we are invested in).

“Think global, act local” seems to ring particularly true here — one of the best ways that Brown students can use the privilege they do have to combat international problems is by pressuring the school to divest from unworthy causes. Of course, this sort of pressure is impossible to apply as long as knowledge of investments remains controlled.

Let me back up to Topaz’s recommendation that SDS “broaden their horizons.” As I understand it, the argument is that since Brown is already a progressive and privileged place, why focus on making it better, when there is the U.S.’s occupation of Afghanistan to be stopped?

This argument makes no sense; these two goals are hardly mutually exclusive. Wasn’t it in the middle of the Vietnam War when our beloved Open Curriculum was adopted after student agitation? What if students of the day had listened to advice like Topaz’s? True, Brown is a privileged community, and kudos to Topaz’s acknowledgement of this, but the reality is that not everyone at Brown is equally privileged, nor do all potential students have the same access to this privilege.  Students are the ones being affected by admissions, tuition and financial aid policies — it is our tuition dollars that are invested — so we should be the ones with the power to make decisions on these issues.

Topaz is under the impression that University Democratization was the only campaign SDS worked on last year. It wasn’t. We organized a coalition of student groups to greet the Corporation when they arrived to meet in February— a demonstration designed to deliver the demands of each group directly to the decision-makers, whether they wanted to hear or not.

This coalition, calling itself Open the Books!, delivered a letter to the Brown University Community Council, with Chancellor Tisch in attendance. It expressed our desire to meet with the Corporation Committee on Investment, a request they refused. We also began working with the Career Development Center towards creating a code of ethics guiding which organizations would be allowed to recruit on campus.

There is good reason Brown SDS hasn’t devoted itself to anti-war efforts (although maybe you’ve heard of Funk the War — there have been five): there is already an on-campus anti-war group. It’s called Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Maybe you think that with the escalation of US presence in Afghanistan, OIF is not as relevant as it once was. Well, you’re in luck — there is a new anti-war group in the making, whose direction is yet set. If this fits your interest (and I’m talking to you, Topaz), then their first meeting is today.

Otherwise, if you care about “petty internal problems” like whom Brown is invested in, whom we let recruit students on campus, how much you pay to go here and whether we will make our admissions policies more accessible, come to the SDS meeting tonight. Me? I plan on going to both.


Julian Park ’12 can be e-mailed for information on anti-war and SDS meetings. He can be reached at julianfrancispark (at) gmail.com

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