The Janus Forum: In response to President Paxson’s most recent email

Guest Columnist
Monday, November 17, 2014

For years, the Janus Forum has been an integral part of fostering discussions on Brown’s campus. True to our name and mission statement, we believe there are two sides to any question, and we are excited to have the opportunity to host an engaging debate Tuesday entitled “How should colleges handle sexual assault?” Due to some concerns from members of the campus community, including President Christina Paxson, we think it is important to reaffirm why and how Janus hosts debates.

Since its inception, Janus has been an organization committed to leaving no belief unchallenged, no matter how dearly held, with the hope of promoting self-reflection. The format of our events has always reflected this: two speakers, 20 minutes each, with the same time allotted for Q&A as for speaker statements. This format has allowed us to successfully host prolific and outspoken guests, from a discussion with the Ray Kelly protesters to a panel on coal divestment to a debate featuring Noam Chomsky. It is our duty to the student body to address prevalent issues that matter to it.

With the national attention devoted to sexual assault policy reform, specifically on college campuses, we felt it was vitally important to have this debate. We in Janus do not believe affirming free speech comes at the cost of obscuring the truth. Rather, we feel the purpose of a debate is to allow the students to judge for themselves the validity of the viewpoints presented.

When this event was first made public, some members of the Brown community expressed concerns that one of our speakers, Wendy McElroy, would be insensitive to the lived experiences of sexual assault survivors. We have listened closely and actively taken steps to address these concerns. We will be hosting Sexual Assault Peer Education in Salomon 203 at the same time as the debate if at any point during the lecture students need to leave and receive support. It is of paramount importance to us that measures are in place so as many students as possible are able to attend this debate.

Despite Janus’s commitment to opening discussions for the student body and the steps taken to alleviate students’ concerns, some voices on campus think this topic should not be debated. Several of these students petitioned Paxson to cancel our event. Paxson sent out an email to the student body on Friday evening objecting to the nature of our debate and instead promoted an alternative event, which has been scheduled for the same time.

We want to be clear: We have no issue with our University president taking a stance on substantive issues. Our concern is that the president’s email implies opposition to the structure of the debate — a structure designed with the tenets of free expression in mind.

We believe the alternative event promoted by the president, a lecture by Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Lindsay Orchowski entitled “The Research on Rape Culture,” is an important event, and we would have been more than happy to promote it had it been scheduled for any other time period. Unfortunately, it was deliberately planned as an alternative to our own, forcing students to choose between two events, both of which we believe are worthy of their time. By endorsing Orchowski’s event, Paxson has denounced ours.

When students are forced to choose, events no longer serve to “provide the community with more research and facts about these important issues,” as Paxson hoped for in her email. Ultimately, it is the student body as a whole that misses out on vital opportunities. In fact, the other event would have been an excellent complement to the views of our other speaker, Jessica Valenti.

Valenti was chosen on account of her well-known and well-respected position worldwide, and especially within the Brown community. Valenti is an ardent critic of the prevalence of rape culture in society and specifically on college campuses and will touch upon several of the points that Orchowski will make. For this reason, we think it is a shame that some students will not have the opportunity to attend Orchowski’s event because it has been scheduled at the same time as the Janus debate.

It is an unsettling precedent for our president to use her position to decide what counts as acceptable discourse. It was Paxson’s office that approached Janus in 2013 asking to co-sponsor a series on gun rights in America, knowing full well that Janus was the most qualified organization to hold those discussions. Many students affirm and value Janus’s mission of creating open spaces for these conversations, and we do not appreciate Paxson’s implication that the Janus debate is another problem that needs to be dealt with. Ideally, Paxson would be in the front row of the debate on Tuesday, sitting alongside students, both listening to and voicing questions and concerns on this topic.



The Janus Forum will host “How should colleges handle sexual assault?” at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in Salomon 101. It can be reached at


  1. Trevor Culhane says:

    Wendy McElroy is a fringe libertarian (cough cough Janus is funded by the Koch Brothers) who equates proponents of rape culture to Nazis:

    There’s a big difference between “we believe there are two sides to any question” and “the two sides to any question are a mainstream liberal and libertarianism”. Trying to hide behind false notions of free expression doesn’t erase the fact that you’re trying to shift the conversation on campus about rape culture towards whether or not it exists while sexual assault happens at Brown.

    • Based on Janus’ past events, there is no reason to believe Janus has a conservative or libertarian agenda. In fact, I’d argue the opposite: Janus has tended to invite quite liberal speakers to campus (which is, perhaps, why no one has objected to their events before.)

    • “…rape culture towards whether or not it exists while sexual assault happens at Brown.” I think that’s a legitimate debate topic. The fact that a type of crime exists doesn’t mean that our culture as a whole condones it.

  2. Trevor McBane says:

    The current president of this university aids, abets, and protects rapists. She does so deliberately.

    • Really? You think President Paxson deliberately protects rapists? You would feel comfortable stating that President Paxson intentionally goes out of her way to aid and insure the safety of rapists, with the explicit goal of doing so? Really?

    • I’m going to invoke the inimitable Barney Frank here: “on which planet do you spend most of your time?” These kind of remarks bring about as much serious contribution to these debates as could a table leg.

      By all means, continue to spout your nonsense invective, but expect to get called out on your B.S. You are not helping.

      • Maria Jensen says:

        So Paxson is the first fiddler. You are the second one. We will not help you to fiddle. You got that right.

        • I have no idea how this connects to my comment, but by all means carry on ‘fiddling’ (whatever that means) in your absurd little bubble.

  3. The two people the Janus Forum decided to host in its debate on sexual assault at Brown are merely inflammatory who will provide no real discussion or discourse on how it should be handled. Neither specialize in the topic of sexual assault. What is the goal here? To have a discourse on how it should be handled or to have a highly tense discussion if rape culture exists? If the Janus Forum was really trying to have an evolved discourse they would have chosen people that have real opinions on how to fix this climate and problem not whether it exists or not like the authors of these opinions ( ; ). Rape happens here.

    Furthermore Paxson’s e-mail in my interpretation stated just that- rape happens here and we need to take it seriously. The Janus Forum is trying to fill their seats with people wanting to watch a show. This is not academic and the opinions the McElroy is likely to espouse will not contribute to a discourse but bring back the discussion five years with people debating if rape happens here. The fact that Paxson is showing survivors that this University is finally supporting them does not undermine this free speech. The debate is happening and anyone can go that chooses to.

    • Do you see anyone arguing rape doesn’t happen here? I sure don’t.

    • Rape = regretted coitus

    • You also should mention that Jessica Valenti is viewed by many from the left, right and center as a one trick pony who prefers generalizations (read her Guardian columns, including the latest one that basically states ‘not all male athletes are rapists” as if most are) and simplifications to proper analysis, especially in the area of statistical inference. If her published work was graded by a good Brown professor, it would be hard to assume she would get an “S”.

  4. Hannah Gribetz says:

    Just to clarify – in Salomon 203 there will be a Safe Space during the Janus Forum’s event. Sexual Assault Peer Education will have representatives there (as will the WPCs and BWell Health Promotion) but will not be holding a peer education workshop.

    The Safe Space is intended to give those attending the Janus Forum event or the talk by Dr. Orchowski a space to retreat and process, in whatever way feels most comfortable. SAPE/W/BWell reps will be available to talk and offer support, but it will also be a space to talk to each other, listen to music, or just be silent.

    • To paraphrase my comment on the other Janus story:

      So called “safe spaces” are for thumb-suckers not elite Ivy students. Don’t like a debate topic? Stay home, or go to dinner with a friend, or study at a library, or engage in a million other activities rather than attending this or any debate. Our nation’s universities and third wave feminism conspire to infantilize an entire generation of women. Group-think has short circuited their intellects to be replaced with fantastical hysteria.
      Brown should be molding its students into adults ready to take on the world. In that vein, President Paxson’s response to student objections should have been short and to the point: “I hear your objections but must remind you that attendance is optional.” Welcome to the real world.

      • Keep whinging Bob, you and your ilk get upset when you’re not the dominant voices on any topic. too bad.

        • Lol. I don’t need a “safe space” to suck my thumb when somebody disagrees with me. In fact, as an adult, I have no trouble being the minority voice on a topic. That’s how the world works. Sometimes you’re on the majority side of an issue, and sometimes the you’re minority, but your mind should always be open to the opposition’s point of view because even the most ardent, righteous believers can be wrong. Like the Nazis or those Jonestown loonies. Capiche? So it’s not about either side being right about the existence of “rape culture”, it’s about the ability to debate the issue as adults instead of behaving like children.

          • Thank you Bob – as a female student at Brown, all I can say is I can’t agree more. Not only is this whiny self-victimization act detrimental to real feminist causes, but it undermines the very purpose of education – to grapple with controversial topics and engage in debate.

          • Not a female, but a sexual assault survivor as well (critical race theory– this means something) and I agree wholeheartedly. When people try and tell me that rape culture doesn’t exist I want to be able to effectively/efficiently dismantle any argument that they throw at me, but that necessarily entertains that I hear all of said arguments first.

          • you want to see ‘rape culture’? go to pakistan. go to afghanistan. you will see what true rape culture is. and you will be ashamed for applying the phrase to the free society you were lucky enough to be born into.

  5. I cannot believe that the Janus Forum is even claiming a part in “hosting Sexual Assault Peer Education in Salomon 203 at the same time as the debate”. I know for a fact that they had nothing to do with this event, and it was created by others in response to their misguided event. A quick look at the facebook page reveals that it is co-sponsored by: BWell Health Promotion, the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life & Student Services, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, the Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse, SAPE, and UCS. They had nothing to do with it, much less know what it’s about.

    No one should believe for a second that the Janus Forum thought about the lived experiences of sexual assault survivors in planning this event, and they’re now scrambling to save face after realizing the effect that their disregard has had.

    • I am a member of Janus and also a sexual assault survivor. I thought about the lived experience and decided this debate was worth having.

    • seriously? this trigger bs again? you don’t like what is going on, what is being talked about? then stop looking. simple as that. news flash buddy… you don;t have a right to not be offended. lord help us.

  6. “the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race… If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.”– John Stuart Mill.

    If there was ever a more convincing argument for complete freedom of expression, this is it. When a single voice is silenced, that’s when we all lose.

    • Fighting a non-existant battle says:

      Really disappointed that campus conversation has become a free speech circlejerk instead of real conversation about sexual assault (which by the way continues to happen).

      No one was silenced and no one was threatening to silence anyone with this event. Brown
      has no responsibility to give a platform to any speaker or speakers,
      and when individuals on campus do so it is in no way silencing to have alternative events. Freedom of speech does not mean a right to be listened to, just ask the many people on this campus who speak out against their experiences of sexual assault and are ignored.

      • You are intellectually dishonest. In fact, it’s obvious that “freedom of speech” at Brown does mean rape culture propagandists must be “listened to[o]” over more rational voices. There is a debate presenting opposing views on the subject of how to curb sexual assault. Get it? Both sides of the issue will be heard! That should be the end of the story…but no. So-called “activists” forced Paxson to schedule a simultaneous echo-chamber presentation of a rape culture promoter AND a “safe-space” for people who should be in therapy, not enrolled in college. So many millennials with college degrees, even prestigious degrees, work as baristas. Do you really wonder why?

      • If you want to talk about circlejerking, why don’t you look at the group of thoughtless and idiotic students that spend their days embarrassing the University with absurd quasi-political “activist” goals. Shoutout to the crazies: Freedom of speech matters for you, too. Clearly, people are realizing that most of what you have to say is total nonsense that holds no water in an intellectual setting and is not even remotely practicable, so you should be thankful that you and your legion of Buzzfeed/Tumblr supporters will still be allowed to speak once it becomes socially acceptable to criticize you.

  7. givemestrength says:

    Wait. Now just stop and re-read your words. The president of Brown “aids” and “abets” rapists???? How exactly does she “abet” rapists? Either those words don’t mean what they think they mean, or you might want to go looking for your senses, because you’ve apparently taken leave of them.

    And that’s before we even begin to examine how on earth you consider yourself qualified to pass comment on the qualifications of the president of a university. As if asserting something with neither evidence nor authority automatically makes it valid.

    Really, this is beyond ridiculous. If all you’re going to add to this debate is meaningless twaddle, do us all a favor and kindly keep it to yourself.

    • Boyd McKesson says:

      Nobody minds a debate if the leader, i.e. the president acts. But she encourages debate so that she will not act. She aids and abets by doing nothing, and allowing rapists to continue raping. If she is a qualified leader, the buck stops with her. You and we know that she has not a clue about that. So correct, we add nothing to “this debate”, because as long as rapes continue, debates about rapes (or about anything) is irrelevant.

  8. Many comments to the article are affectations that imitate Chris Paxson’s (affected) way of (not) handling things. She does not have a clue about what she is doing and why.

  9. This is kind of random, but why hasn’t anyone invited Bill Cosby to speak on campus?

  10. Re: “some voices on campus think this topic should not be debated.”

    Here’s a comment I made about Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. It shows what can happen when there is no debate and one view prevails.

    As a former world-peace promoter, I’ve always said it’s a good idea to walk in the shoes of another in order to better understand that person.

    But it’s not a good idea for only one sex to walk in the shoes of the other. As good-intentioned as the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” is, the one-sidedness can foster as much alienation as understanding.

    The program leads many to believe that domestic violence is strictly male-to-female and only males must change. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Consider first, to dispel the myth of general female innocence:

    Women are more likely to commit major physical abuse of their children than are men: 56.8 percent to 43.2 percent. [Source: Fire With Fire, by feminist Naomi Wolf, p. 221, hardcover] See also this: “According to the American Anthropological Association, about 200 women kill their children in the United States each year.”

    Women are more likely to kill their children than are men: 55 percent to 45 percent. [Source: “Women and Violent Crime,” a paper by Prof. Rita J. Simon, Department of Justice, Law and Society and Washington College of Law, American University, Washington, D.C] See examples in Utah, which has a Safe Haven law, of serial baby killers, in a report dated April 13, 2014: “Police find seven dead babies in Utah County home.“

    Women commit almost all of the murders of newborns. In Dade County, Fla., between 1956 and 1986, according to the June 1990 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 5:2, mothers accounted for 86 percent of newborn deaths. [Source: When She Was Bad, by Patricia Pearson, p. 255, note 71.]

    Since women, without provocation, batter and kill children, whom they supposedly have been socialized to love, they can, without provocation, batter and kill men, whom they definitely have been socialized — by the media, feminist literature, and “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” — to distrust, fear, and hate.

    The promoters of “Walk a Mile” seem to want women portrayed as innocents who do no wrong. Perhaps without realizing it, they are, I believe, setting females up to come across to many men as holier-than-thou, someone on a higher moral plane, someone who should perhaps be put on a pedestal.

    Portraying one group as never to blame and the other as always to blame is not, peace advocaters like myself believe, the impression to convey if you want those whom you blame to understand you. If you want a group — men, in this case — to understand you, let alone listen to you, you must first talk about the mote in your own eye, your own sins; that was essentially the approach President Obama used early on when talking to or about our country’s enemies; it may have helped win him his Pulitzer prize. Because the promoters of “Walk a Mile” have to my knowledge never done this, they have, as they might admit, achieved little. You could argue, reflecting on President Obama’s approach, that the promoters of Walk a Mile protect women’s image in the way that conservative patriots protect America’s image as morally superior to other nations.

    Recommended reading:

    “Open Letter to Senate Judiciary on the VAWA”

    “Jay Z and Ray Rice Cases Show Our Savage Hypocrisy on Domestic Violence”

    Here’s a very important area where each sex should walk in the shoes of the other:

    “The Sexual Harassment Quagmire: How To Dig Out”

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