Letter to the Editor: Does Freedom of Expression Have a Place on Our Campus?
Letter to the Editor: Does Freedom of Expression Have a Place on Our Campus?
by Sean Gray ’21
Executive Vice President of the 71st Student Congress
I found the Provost’s decision about the Humanities Forum with Dr. Spencer Klavan last Friday, in a word, disappointing. While Dr. Klavan’s topic was not controversial, as he spoke about the Iliad, his social media presence certainly is. Aside from being a classicist, Dr. Klavan is an internet provocateur who often tweets harshly and hatefully about issues of race, gender, and even the COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone who takes a few minutes to look through his Twitter can find plenty of remarks that do not align with the College’s Catholic and Dominican values. The College has barred many speakers and events for that reason before, but they did not employ that rationale in the case of Dr. Klavan. I am bothered that the administration seems to apply this standard only selectively.
I can respect the arguments Dr. Raymond Hain and Provost Sean Reid made in an email on Friday afternoon. They expressed fair concerns about academic freedom, censorship, and the irrelevance of Dr. Klavan’s inflammatory remarks to his topic at the Forum. To conclude, Provost Reid wrote, “As a College committed to free expression of diverse viewpoints, cancelling speakers who express beliefs with which we may disagree sets a dangerous precedent.” Fair enough. As an academic institution, we should bring in diverse and even controversial speakers. The exploration of different, even challenging, ideas is central to the growth of any college-aged individual.
But the College’s track record of censorship tells a much different story than Dr. Hain or Provost Reid presented. In practice, Providence College has not been committed to a “free expression of diverse viewpoints” at all. Proposed student events and speakers across the political spectrum—everything from the Vagina Monologues and PC Proud to Guy Benson and Ben Shapiro—have been rejected, cancelled, or obstructed because an aspect of that event or that speaker’s history allegedly did not align with the College’s mission.
Take, for instance, a recent proposal from the Board of Programmers. BOP attempted to bring in a group called “Speak About It” to present about sexual assault and the importance of consent. The group’s website lists Planned Parenthood as one of many resources in a guide about sexual health, however, and because of that, the Office of Mission and Ministry denied BOP’s proposal. Planned Parenthood had nothing to do with the topic at hand, but the mere affiliation apparently warranted a rejection.This is only one example of a long list of speakers and events, often from liberal or progressive groups, that the College has rejected not for the content of their presentation, but rather the character, history, or affiliations of the proposed speaker.
Given a rigorous standard like that, one might hope that the Office of Mission and Ministry would step up and say that a hateful speaker like Dr. Klavan has no place on our campus, no matter the content of his presentation. But they did not. They said nothing, and the Collegepermitted Dr. Klavan’s event to carry on. The Provost is new to our community, only taking up his post in July, so I do not fault him for his ignorance of our College’s history of selective censorship. But if he is truly committed to making PC a place that allows the “free expression of diverse viewpoints,” I strongly urge him to investigate how the College has historically ignored the value of free expression.
Our choice is simple. Either we can hold every speaker and every event to the high standard of aligning with Catholic and Dominican values and allow no one who challenges those ideals to speak on our campus, or we can truly commit ourselves to freedom of expression and the exploration of diverse views. The administration has repeatedly demonstrated they cannot do the former fairly or consistently. It is time to try the latter. We need to dismantle the College’s extensive, inconsistent system of censorship. We must give student groups the freedom they deserve to celebrate diverse voices, explore challenging ideas, encourage important debates, and pursue Veritas in every aspect of their lives. Only then could we say in earnest that Providence College is “committed to free expression of diverse viewpoints.”
I look forward to working with the President, the Provost, other members of administration, and the student body at large to make this possible.
Featured Friar: Sean Gray ’21
by Hannah Langley ’21
In the musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda posed the question, “Legacy. What is a legacy?” For Sean Gray ’21, he hopes his legacy will not only be his family legacy here at Providence College, but also his legacy of helping and contributing to the PC community in many different ways.
Growing up in Lincoln, RI, Gray was surrounded by Friartown influence and spirit. He talked about how both of his parents, as well as his brother, graduated from PC, so he felt it was always a presence in his life. It was not until his sophomore year of high school, though, that Gray really started to consider PC an option for his future. “I was indifferent with the whole college process,” Gray said, “but when I was a sophomore in high school, I saw the hockey team win the national championship, and I was all in.”
Since his freshman year, Gray has been heavily involved in student life here at PC. “I joined Student Congress at the end of my freshman year,” he said, and he has been on the Academics Committee ever since. He talked about all the work the committee has done over the past few years, particularly the events he was involved in planning, including the “Core Crunch” for incoming freshmen and the book drive held last semester, in which they raised over 400 books. Gray has also been a class representative for the class of 2021 beginning this past year.
“I love being on Congress,” said Gray. “I enjoy being able to represent my classmates and make substantial differences in their lives, especially in academics, which is something I feel very passionate about.”
Besides being on Congress, Gray also works in the Writing Center as a head writing tutor, which is something he also cares deeply about here at PC. “I like to do work that is purposeful and makes a difference,” said Gray, which is why the Writing Center is one of his favorite things here. He loves having people come in and knowing that he is making a difference in their lives by helping them improve their own work. As Gray said, “We want to make better writers, not better papers, so seeing people grow in that skill is really satisfying.”
It was not only the culture and spirit that drew Gray to PC, but the academics as well. As a history major and a part of the Honors Program, Gray said he liked the idea of Development of Western Civilization (DWC) from the very beginning.
When asked why he chose to be a history major, Gray replied, “I think history is the most important thing anyone can study right now.” As a lover of learning, Gray believes history gives him an interesting study of the way human nature works over time and the patterns throughout human history. He continued, saying, “I think it teaches you skills that are important in personal and professional life, but we are also exposed to information constantly,” which is why learning how to evaluate events today is an important tool.
Gray is also pursuing a double minor in Spanish and philosophy, talking about how he thinks these two minors pair well with his major. “Philosophy and history are incredibly intertwined,” he said. “It gives you an idea of how different generations struggle with the same problem and how they acted from different angles.”
Part of Gray’s work in the history department includes being a research assistant. He talked about his recent work with Dr. Steven Smith in researching a politician and newspaper editor from the 1800s named Peter Force, which has given him the opportunity to learn more about life in the early American republic. Gray loves the work he does in the department because it gives him the chance to work alongside professors and build relationships with them while doing something he enjoys.
While Gray is only a junior, he hopes to one day pursue a Ph.D. in history or attend law school to study legal history. When asked what his dream job would be, Gray responded, “Oh, for sure being a history professor here,” exemplifying his love for the PC community.
Although Gray works hard in the classroom, he loves spending time with his friends, whether that be at hockey games, playing intramural flag football, or going to yoga classes. “I have made the best friends a guy could ask for,” said Gray. “I’m just thankful for the relationships I’ve built with my friends, professors, and co-workers, and I’m grateful for my parents who work hard for me to be here,” he said.
While Gray is just one of many students working to make a difference in the PC community, he hopes he is making a lasting impact in the lives of students while building his own legacy, which students will remember and take with them throughout their lives.