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Guan ’27: The freedom of thought

The Ivy League is no stranger to criticism and scrutiny. From producing mindless “zombies” to upholding socioeconomic inequality, critics have already levied almost any accusation one could imagine. But amid social and political upheaval in the aftermath of the October 7 attack, right-wing commentators have assailed its institutions and students for any number of alleged offenses — from indoctrination to antisemitism — creating a media storm and opening up yet another front in this country’s culture war.

But although we may see those critics as bitter conservative reactionaries standing against progress, I encourage us not to immediately dismiss them and instead use their accusations as a basis for reflection on our own role in upholding freedom of thought. Well-regarded institutions of higher education may pride themselves on a free thinking culture that encourages a diversity of viewpoints, but recent events — including Harvard President Claudine Gay’s resignation and campus tensions over the Israel-Palestine war — have called into question our commitment to free speech.

The Ivy League will always be subject to some degree of disapproval by virtue of its prestige, and we as Brown students know this more than most. But perhaps now is the time to recognize our own potential shortcomings in upholding essential values like intellectual freedom, open debate and tolerance.

Our outspokenness is perhaps a testament to the success of intellectual freedom, but it’s also important to examine the other side of this narrative when our political composition appears so homogenous. I’ve spoken with many students who hold political views that do not appear mainstream at Brown. From supporters of the current Israeli government to opponents of fossil fuel divestment, they share one common theme: fear of being ostracized, shunned and labeled as hateful if their views are publicized. Nowhere is this more evident than in the comment sections of Sidechat posts showing support for those views; rather than discussion, most were met with hate comments and accusations of moral deviation. We also cannot forget the “poster war” between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine activists at the onset of the conflict, which led to an explosion of hateful rhetoric. Considering all this, we ought to ask ourselves: How safe is it really to disagree with prevailing views? And to what extent have we feigned our values rather than living up to them?


Perhaps we are tempted to cast those who think differently as uncultured and thin-skinned, so illogical that they cannot defend even their own points of view. But surely their perspectives warrant a second consideration, because blocking them out hurts our ability to learn from differing points of view, makes us less empathetic and fundamentally endangers our campus environment.

The Ivy League is only the latest battleground in this polarized country. I do not believe in claims that our institution is now authoritarian or uncaring by nature. But it would simultaneously be unwise for us to dismiss this criticism entirely. It is time we examine how we have blurred the line between “disagreeing” and “hating.” Too often we brush off opposing perspectives as inherently hateful by nature, excusing ourselves for ignoring them. We must be more honest with ourselves and recognize that there is much work ahead of us if we are to faithfully uphold Brown’s core value of encouraging free inquiry.

It is our collective duty to change our current narrative, and there is much we can do as individuals. A good way to start would be interacting more with opinions we disagree with. As fellow columnist Ben Aizenberg wrote, a willingness to discuss does a great deal in encouraging freedom of thought. There is no immediate solution to the current political environment on campus, but making an effort to befriend someone with different experiences, reading about disagreeable opinions, or even simply engaging with someone who holds opposing views goes a long way toward making our school more intellectually diverse.

The ability to interact with people of different cultures, backgrounds, and ideologies is a privilege granted to us who attend a global university. We must do our part to foster an environment to encourage expression of diverse viewpoints which helps us all — agreeing or not — to grow together as a community.

Lucas Guan ’27 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to


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