In an opinion piece published in The Brown Daily Herald today, Brown University junior and 2011 FIRE intern Oliver Rosenbloom makes principled arguments against restrictive speech codes and in favor of free speech on campus. Oliver writes:
There is no guarantee that the campus orthodoxies of today will always hold sway. While conservatives used to rule the academy, today the prevailing standards on college campuses align with liberal beliefs about race, gender, class and sexual orientation.
Even if you share these specific political beliefs, you should not support the silencing of opposing beliefs. Power changes hands, and prevailing orthodoxies often evolve or transform into something wholly new. Protecting the speech you dislike today establishes a principle that will help protect your own speech tomorrow.
Oliver also states that he has reached out to administrators about amending Brown’s one "red light" policy, which prohibits "suggestive jokes of a sexual nature" that "make people uncomfortable," as part of a broad definition of sexual harassment that bans much student speech that would be protected by the First Amendment in a public setting.
The policy also violates Brown’s own stated commitment to free expression, including this strong assertion: "In an academic community the response to ideas believed to be distasteful or offensive should be other ideas and relevant evidence rather than administrative sanctions."
Hopefully, administrators will see the wisdom in Oliver’s words and the school’s promises of free expression, and will revise Brown’s policies to fully protect free speech in the university community.