Editorial: Janus Forum and the freedom of expression

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Echoes of last fall’s Ray Kelly incident continue to reverberate on campus, most recently manifesting themselves in the controversy surrounding today’s Janus Forum debate, “How Should Colleges Handle Sexual Assault?” The upcoming forum has come to be defined by one of the speakers: Wendy McElroy, a controversial and vocal dissenter of the pervasiveness of rape culture on college campuses. Last Friday, President Christina Paxson authored a campus-wide email contesting McElroy’s opinion and outlined the creation of an alternative event at a concurrent time — a presentation led by Lindsay Orchowski, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, entitled “The Research on Rape Culture.” Addressing the issue of sexual assault undoubtedly stands as a top priority for the University and though the events will be recorded, forcing students to choose between attending these two events effectively marginalizes the importance of unfiltered dialogue and discussion, a point ironically underscored by the administration in its criticism of the hindered Ray Kelly lecture.

We endorse that the Orchowski event be moved to a different time or repeated so students may attend both events and gain an academic understanding of the extent and potential solutions to sexual assault on college campuses.

Though we very much acknowledge the pressing importance of confronting sexual assault on campus and the underlying sensitivity of the issue, this most recent administrative action calls into question the role and character of dialogue on campus. The Janus Forum — which has facilitated several controversial, yet equitable debates in recent years — underscored this same concern in an opinion column in Monday’s Herald titled, “In response to President Paxson’s most recent email.” “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,” the Forum wrote. We worry that the double-booking comes out of the administration’s attempt to head off a disruption similar to the one which occurred at the Ray Kelly lecture.

Additionally, Paxson’s plan seems to contradict her response to the Kelly event regarding free speech. In the words of Paxson in her campus-wide response to the Ray Kelly incident, “Brown has sound policies that promote and preserve freedom of expression, even when the ideas being expressed may be abhorrent.” Though the character of the Ray Kelly lecture may have indeed dealt with an issue not explicitly present on campus (i.e. the stop-and-frisk policy of the New York Police Department), this underlying tenet of free expression cannot merely adapt to the topic of discussion, regardless of its ultimate degree of sensitivity or attention.

So to send a message that would endorse freedom of expression on campus, the University need only to escort disruptive individuals out of the event and let it progress.  This would show that the University standards of free speech and respect apply to discussing this issue.

By effectively double-booking students interested in sexual assault reform, Paxson both undercut the inherent structure and importance of the topical debate and, even more significantly, contradicted both her own stated precedent and the University’s commitment to free speech. Sexual assault is very much a pressing issue on campus and must be addressed as such. That the University has a different stance than McElroy is a learning opportunity, and students should have the option to both hear why the University takes the stance it does and compare it to McElroy’s position. In addition, as a community, we must ensure that the ability to freely discuss the issue — regardless of opinion and stance — will be supported and facilitated, not dampened.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15, Katherine Pollock ’16 and Himani Sood ’15. Send comments to

Note: Rattner, a member of the Janus Forum, recused himself from the writing and editing of this editorial.

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

  1. 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.

    • I’m a survivor. I’m very much interested in sexual assault policy reform. I’m disappointed that I had to miss out on the Orchowski lecture, as I would have certainly attended both events had they not been scheduled at the same time. The issue here isn’t about people being “silenced”, it’s that the University refused to allow interested students to attend both events.

      That way, my opportunity as a survivor to speak up and educate myself at both events was – silenced.

  2. Anything that moves the discussion of responsibility for rape, or any other violent act, away from the perpetrator and the justice system (sic) that fails and instead seeks to ensnare those who simply find themselves at the receiving end of charges when no actual violence has been committed, does real harm and misdirects scarce resources of capital and labor away from solving the real problem:

    Getting justice for real victims of sexual (or any other) violence!

    Wendy was no threat to this campus, or any other! She has direct experience in the matter! Her “debater” squarely forfeited in her initial response which means she did not do her homework to prepare for the debate! She should have found a replacement do debate McElroy on the merits!

    Victims of Rape were not served by creating such a spectacle. A real debate would have probed for real solutions and discussed where and why the law falls short, and how to objectively handle crime. It should have also discussed empowerment so that defensive tactics and early precautions could be taken to prevent the most common scenarios where one is otherwise easily victimized.

    Wendy sees the issue clearly as a defender of individual rights and liberties from a victim’s perspective so that she cannot be discredited.

    If women are pro-choice, they should have the freedom to choose liberty and be empowered, not coerced into missing the mark of a very serious matter.

    To put it simply, when you hear someone dismiss individual freedom and liberty, you should say swiftly, “please be quiet, adults are speaking.”

Comments are closed. If you have corrections to submit, you can email The Herald at