In my six months at Brown, I’ve grown to love its greens and quads, its eclectic architecture and even its prehistoric dining halls. I’ve been inspired by my peers, motivated by my professors and excited by a wealth of new opportunities. But, most of all, I’ve come to love the spirit of unity that exists on campus. This unity is ever-present at Brown, even during times of hardship.
Brown has undoubtedly passed through a dark period in the last two weeks. In spite of the improving weather and imminence of spring break, the main topic of conversation has been frustration at the University’s response to the alleged spiking of two women’s drinks with GHB at a Phi Kappa Psi party, after which one of the women reported being sexually assaulted. There has been widespread anger and confusion over the University’s decision to drop charges against the alleged drugger. This preoccupation is natural, as students are justifiably concerned about campus security and justice. But the collective response of the student body has been moving, dignified and representative of what Brown should stand for.
Before I came to Brown, I had heard a lot of criticism about the “extreme,” non-inclusive campus culture. These critiques primarily stem from the infamous protest against Ray Kelly and his talk about “proactive policing” policies. While I agreed with many of the protesters on a personal and ideological level, I could also understand the logic behind such criticism. The demonstrations were extremely disruptive and vitriolic. The protesters were not content with simply making their displeasure known. They did not rest until the talk was canceled.
Though Kelly was responsible for a gross miscarriage of justice with his racial profiling policies, the protesters’ methods were too polarizing to generate consensus on campus. Most students disagreed with his views, but some believed he should have been allowed to speak and treated with more respect. This lack of consensus undermined the scope of the protest itself. The incident remains a contentious part of Brown’s recent history, but the student body has apparently learned from its mistakes.
In direct contrast with the Ray Kelly debacle, students have raised concerns over the University’s sexual assault policies in a less disruptive but equally powerful way. The protest at a March 5 talk entitled “Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Female Presidents and the Changing University,” featuring President Christina Paxson P’19, showcased an effective use of restraint. It had echoes of the demonstrations at the Ray Kelly talk, but instead, students allowed the speakers to present in full. Rather than shutting down the talk, the students simply stood in unison, wearing red clothes and duct tape embellished with dollar bills and a red “IX” over their mouths, for less than a minute before sitting down as the talk commenced. In doing so, they showed respect and consideration for all present and brought important attention to the issue at hand.
Moreover, the recent large-scale protest against the University’s sexual assault policies was emotive and powerful. On March 11, approximately 400 people marched in silence from Wriston Quadrangle to the Quiet Green. They walked in silence with the same symbolic dollar bill taped over their mouths. The protest garnered support from most students and did not earn the disapproval of the Brown administration.
The protest was, more than anything, poignant and unifying. Once again, it did not disturb bystanders but still managed to send out a strong message of campus-wide solidarity. It is important to note that, despite the administration’s silence in the wake of the protest, they did not try to prevent or curtail it. This seems like a tacit acceptance of the protest’s validity. It is also an acknowledgment of the fact that, this time around, the campus stands united.
Each and every member of the Brown community, including the well-meaning but maligned Paxson and Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn, wants a safer campus. All right-minded students and staff members believe in the idea of bringing those found responsible for crimes to justice. And, in part due to the tasteful restraint shown by the protesters, most seem to agree that the demonstrators have opinions and concerns that need to be addressed.
Whether or not you believe the allegations of drugging and rape, it is imperative that we foster strong discussion on campus. Sexual assault is all too prevalent in colleges across the country, and Brown needs to take action immediately to protect its students. If this campus is to be made a safer place, student voices — like those of the protesters — must be heard. And the March 11 protest was an inspiring way to bring attention to those very voices.
Mili Mitra ’18 remains hopeful that the Brown administration will take heed and improve its sexual assault policies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.