Letters to the Editor

Letters: Community responses to Kelly lecture cancellation continue

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I have read the letters and comments about the Ray Kelly heckling, so I’ll simply add this: I have touted Brown’s virtue as a place of open dialogue and vibrant debate to my students who have considered applying. Just recently I wrote a letter of recommendation with pride and excitement for a student of mine who I thought would thrive in a community so committed to civil discourse. And while I know the University itself had nothing to do with the cowardly interruption of Kelly’s speech (I commend the University for its quick, unqualified condemnation of what occurred), and while I would never condemn the University and its students and faculty members for the embarrassing actions of a few, part of me hopes I haven’t been giving bad advice. Here’s hoping the next story I see in the national press about Brown exemplifies the open and liberal place it is.

Gregory Cooper ’01


Reading accounts of Ray Kelly’s visit to Brown is a trip down memory lane: like a time machine journey back to Camille Paglia’s 1992 lecture at which she was heckled by members of the community, professors included. Students, faculty members and alums have noted the obvious regarding the Kelly lecture: The protesting students’ antics were illiberal and counter to Brown’s values — never mind outrageous and embarrassing. I could wring my hands and bemoan that so little has changed in 21 years: Brown still boasts an intolerant, hypocritical and vocal minority that impoverishes campus discourse and subjects the University many of us cherish to scorn and embarrassment. Instead, I’ll focus on the happy fact, as evidenced by other letters, that Brown maintains a thoughtful and less excitable majority that values diversity in viewpoints and the free and civil exchange of opposing ideas.

Andrew Curtis ’92


As an alum working in criminal justice in Providence, I felt the rejection of the Kelly lecture by the student body was a statement that should be listened to by the University, not disregarded. It was a mistake to choose a lecture format for such a contentious figure — why give him the stage and mic to himself? A point-counterpoint format would not have been booed off the stage because students would have felt like their voices were included in the event. It reminded me of a Richard Perle event I went to before the Iraq War. Students tried to shut it down but were stopped. He got the stage and lied for an hour about weapons of mass destruction. It’s asking too much for audience members to challenge a speaker in that context. The speaker needs to be challenged within the event. Organizers should listen to the student yells of protest. They are saying something more than “shut up.”

Nick Horton ’04


As a Brown alum involved in social change work, I am unbelievably proud our community stands up for what it believes in. I agree with the vision of the students and community members who protested New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s speech today: that we should live in a world where every person can walk the streets of New York — or any other city — without fear of being brutalized, frisked or otherwise dehumanized. And I applaud students and community members who led the lecture organizers to allocate more time for questions and answers during a lecture as controversial as this one.

But I disagree with the tactic students and community members used. Shutting down Kelly’s lecture was not the most strategic way to achieve the long-term aims of curbing police brutality and frisking policies, or many of the other, deeper issues at hand. It shifted the dialogue from police practices and injustice to one about free speech. It implied the Brown community wants to go down that slippery slope of preferring silence to speech we do not agree with. And importantly, today’s protests silenced not only Kelly, but also other students and community members who are potential allies.

I am impressed and humbled by the dialogue, debate and questions stemming from today’s protest. Yet I encourage the students and community members who brilliantly shut down Kelly’s lecture to consider channeling that same energy, passion and anger into future tactics that build toward a well-defined goal and are, at their core, inclusive, respectful and just as powerful.

Kara Kafuman ’12



  1. Class of '12, '12.5, '13 says:

    I am genuinely confused by the many white alumni (and there are many!) who claim that they share the protestors’ goal of challenging Ray Kelly and the white supremacist power structure he represents, but then publicly condemn the protest led by Providence community members and students of color at Brown as not “strategic.” Do you really think that your public letters–in attempting to convince readers that the anti racial profiling movement in Providence is misguided–furthers this goal of challenging racism? If your priority was to be an ally, but you felt that protestors were making a huge mistake, then you could have written to them privately. But you chose to write a public letter instead.

    So, why did you write these public letters, newspaper articles, and (ugh) facebook posts?

    Did you write them just to hear yourself speak?

    Did you write them because the idea of a group of angry people of color and their angry white allies scares you?

    I really am curious about your motivations, and hope to see a reply. Or perhaps some more public letters, this time acknowledging that as white people who will never experience racial profiling, your voices–no matter what you think about the protest itself–shouldn’t matter very much at all right now.

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