Brown students: improving race relations is more important than free speech

  • Five Brown students claim in an opinion piece published in the Brown Daily Herald that the right to free speech is a 'protection against the abuse of power.'

In response to controversial op-eds published in the school newspaper, five Brown University students are claiming that freedom of speech does not confer the right to express opinions they find distasteful.

"The right to free speech is a protection against the abuse of power, not a guarantee of a platform for all ideas,” a group of students wrote in an op-ed for the Brown Daily Herald.

"The right to free speech is a protection against the abuse of power."   

The assertion came in response to outrage over two recent op-eds that some students found offensive and racist in nature—one daring to mention biological differences between races and the other defending Columbus Day.

The articles led to ultimatums from two minority student organizations demanding that the paper formally apologize for publishing the opinions and endorse the effort to change Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” which in turn prompted an open letter from school administrators, including Brown President Christina Paxson, deeming the article valuable in producing dialogue and constructive discussion.

Five Brown students added their voices to that dialogue Monday with their op-ed arguing that improving race relations among students is more important than protecting their freedom of speech. In the op-ed, the group states that the original Daily Herald columns directly inflicted pain and harm on Brown students and was a use "of color as teaching tools."

While many students supported the so-called "scientific racism" article as an individual's right to free speech and expression, the authors of the response contend that "these freedom of speech arguments actively prevent much needed conversation about race."

The authors acknowledge that "we are taught to extol the virtues of free speech", however they go on to claim that when individuals believe and defend free speech, they do so because "it works in [their] favor. " Arguments in defense of free expression and free speech, according to the authors, are employed in order to "silence voices of color."

These writers view free speech arguments and associated values as "dangerously effective rhetoric tools, and people in power will continue to use them." Due to the perceived threat the authors feel free speech poses, they further claim that people have lost the meaning and value censorship has in debates regarding race, saying, "censorship is the exercise of power to suppress challenges to the status quo."

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @taylorgrenawalt

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