Brown University Students Unlearn Liberty
February 15, 2011
At Brown University, an act of political protest came to a disappointing end when students apparently opposed to the protest's message simply removed it from view. The Brown Daily Herald reports:
A banner reading "Corporate Criminals Run Brown" appeared on Wayland Arch [of Wayland House, a Brown dormitory] facing Wriston Quadrangle Friday evening, a day before this weekend's meeting of the Corporation. Less than 24 hours later, the banner had been taken down.
The banner included a small "TM" for "trademark" beside the word "Brown."
The banner was a reference to Steven J. Rattner, a fellow of the Corporation of Brown University whose business practices have drawn scrutiny from government agencies in the past. (The Herald notes that while he has paid fines and faced temporary sanctions, he has not been convicted of any crime.)
The students, who are members of the group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), note that this wasn't the first time a banner of theirs had been quickly removed from view, citing a similar incident when a banner of theirs was taken down from Faunce House, Brown's student union.
I am unclear on precisely what the rules for hanging—and removing—banners from Wayland House and Faunce House are; at least with the Wayland Arch, though, the Herald writes that one of the students says it is common to see banners hang there for weeks at a time. If this is indeed the case, SDS' treatment at the hands of its fellow students represents an obvious double standard.
Though a double standard may be in play, SDS members aren't keen to raise a big fuss over it. One of the student members tells the Herald that "[s]ometimes it's difficult to address the student body as a whole because there are many communication methods."
Unfortunately, too many students are willing to simply dispense with discussion and instead make their opponents' views disappear, as if doing so were just another reasonable "communication method." As I wrote in my blog post about a newspaper theft at Towson University yesterday, this is hardly a legitimate form of discourse. If Brown students are irked by SDS' message, there are better ways to express their disagreement than by simply removing the expression of those with whom they disagree.