Moral Voices, a student-led group run through Brown RISD Hillel, had selected fighting violence against LBGTQ+ individuals and communities as its topic for the 2015–16 academic year. Their keynote event, which was to be held on March 21, was co-sponsored by Hillel and other University groups, including the LBGTQ Center, Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, Sexual Assault Peer Educators (SAPE), Brown Center for Students of Color, Swearer Center for Public Service, Office of the Chaplains and RISD’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement.
Ms. Mock, a TV host, New York Times bestselling author and nationally-known advocate for trans women's rights, was the scheduled speaker for this event. In her talk, Redefining Realness, Ms. Mock was to share her experiences growing up young, multiracial, poor and trans in America.
A group of students posted an online petition – responsibility for which was subsequently acknowledged by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) – which mischaracterized Brown RISD Hillel and urged Ms. Mock to disassociate from Hillel. An earlier, much longer and even more defamatory version of the petition first appeared as a self-styled “open letter” to Ms. Mock. A link to this letter was sent directly to her representatives by an individual Brown student. It should, however, be noted, that this letter was never actually “made public” and was taken down from the URL at which it was housed on March 16.
Unfortunately, the letter and petition, as well as subsequent direct contact by a member of SJP, silenced Ms. Mock’s voice at Brown. Ms. Mock canceled her appearance, and her representatives stated, “We feel the focus of Janet's work was lost leading up to the proposed event, and her visit was received with controversy and resistance rather than open dialogue and discussion about the issues closest to Janet's work in movements for trans liberation, racial justice and intersectional feminism.” Hundreds of students from around College Hill and others from the local community registered to hear from Ms. Mock and were denied the opportunity to do so.
Moral Voices issued a response to the SJP petition and a statement regarding the cancellation of the event, setting forth their position and refuting those of individuals who would try to silence them.
There is no place on a college campus for this type of prejudice. Brown RISD Hillel has no less right than does any other student organization to bring speakers to campus.
We share the sentiment expressed in Brown University President Christina Paxson’s statement on March 20 in response to the cancellation:
"I regret that Janet Mock, a leading activist on transgender rights, decided not to speak at Brown University after a small number of students petitioned her to disavow a student group associated with the Brown-RISD Hillel, which was a co-sponsor of the event. I respect her decision to avoid having her talk be overshadowed by an issue unrelated to her work. However, I am disappointed that a valuable learning opportunity was lost. Brown University’s Statement on Academic Freedom for Faculty and Students affirms that faculty members and students have the right to invite speakers of their choice to campus. This includes Moral Voices, the student group associated with Hillel that issued the invitation to Ms. Mock. Brown is strengthened by the expression of a full range of views on difficult and even divisive issues. However, while we cannot and should not prevent any member of our community from signing a petition, it is counter to Brown’s norms and values for expressions of dissent to be targeted at a student group because of its religious affiliation.
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Brown University is committed to maintaining an environment in which individuals from all backgrounds and beliefs are welcome and valued, and where a diversity of views co-exist in a spirit of open inquiry, trust and mutual respect. I encourage all members of our community to join me in continuing to uphold this commitment."
Brown RISD Hillel remains an inclusive community where a diversity of people, perspectives and opinions are represented, found and welcome. We will continue to bring important and inspirational speakers of substance to campus.
For further information:
Executive Director, Brown RISD Hillel
Hillel on Facebook: www.facebook.com/hillelbrownrisd
Hillel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/brownrisdhillel