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Letter: Steele’s appointment is not what it’s cracked up to be

To the Editor:

Rebecca Aman’s Sept. 13 column commended the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs for inviting Michael Steele to serve as a faculty fellow and lead student discussion groups this school year. I take issue with two assertions made in this piece.

First, the piece suggests that by inviting both Steele, former chair of the Republican National Committee, and Tom Perez ’83 P’18, current chair of the Democratic National Committee, to lead study groups and discussions at Watson, we are promoting a “diverse array of opinions and perspectives” on campus. Even though Steele and Perez sit on opposite sides of the aisle in Congress, their ideologies actually sit quite close to one another on a left-right political spectrum. The terms “neoconservative” and “neoliberal” are frequently used to label the two, respectively, suggesting their shared support for free market distribution of goods like health insurance, support for free trade with other countries and a strict adherence to a tax code and regulatory apparatus that enables corporations to leverage immense political and economic power over the majority of Americans.

Seventy percent of Americans and a majority of Republicans support the policy of Medicare for all, according to a poll conducted by Reuters this summer. Neither Perez nor Steele supports Medicare for all. Further, recent primary elections across the country have shown an appetite for Democratic socialism among voters. Bernie Sanders, who is affiliated with neither the DNC nor the RNC, won the 2016 Democratic primary in Rhode Island by almost 12 points. If the goal of paying (former) politicians to interact with students is to introduce us to perspectives that we will “encounter after graduation,” as Aman states, shouldn’t the Watson bring politicians whose perspectives overlap with those of the majority of Rhode Islanders and Americans?

The second point that I take issue with in this column is the assertion that “if Steele’s appointment is successful, his fellowship could be a model — on this campus and on others that have had more chaotic experiences with right-wing speakers — for inviting conservative figures to campus in a way that will be productive rather than simply divisive.” This piece fails to acknowledge that “right-wing speakers” and “conservative figures” are frequently divisive due their agendas that are an affront to university values, including white supremacy, support for police brutality against minorities, support for imperial wars carried out by the United States and climate change denial. (There are also many people within the DNC who support these agendas, which is a great reason to invite speakers outside of the political “establishment.”) Michael Steele publicly denied the existence of human-caused global warming when he was chair of the RNC.

I would challenge students at Brown to ask why we have become so concerned about inviting more conservative speakers to campus and why we accept members of the RNC and DNC as representatives of a diverse array of opinions. What do we achieve by bringing them to Brown?

Julia Rock ’19


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