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

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 janusforum@gmail.com.



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