To the Editor:
I was disappointed to see last week’s letter criticizing the administration’s silence in the wake of the concerns raised by some students after this year’s Parody.
It is the mission of the Dean of Students Office to support students and to foster community. In keeping with these goals, my staff and I held many meetings with students on all sides of this issue in order to assess the situation and determine the appropriate next steps. We engaged in shuttle diplomacy when tensions were highest. During those many meetings, we worked to identify ways to move the conversation forward productively. At the same time, Dean Kagan, Prof. Minow, and Prof. Ogletree were also meeting with students.
As a result of these discussions, we took action. First, we worked with students on all sides of this issue to arrange the Town Hall meeting moderated by Prof. Ogletree. As you might expect, we were balancing several viewpoints as to how that meeting would be most effective. We worked to ensure that a range of voices were represented. Some students would have preferred a different structure, but we appreciated student willingness to work toward a broader solution. The feedback from the Town Hall meeting suggests that students appreciated the opportunity to discuss issues related to race and gender in a town forum and we want to continue such discussions in the future.
Second, we started working with students and faculty to plan a panel to address the tensions between free speech and harassment in education. That panel, held this past Tuesday, was organized by Prof. Minow, working with Amal Bass ’06 (of the WLA), Natalie Fleming ’06 (of BLSA) and Sandy Pullman ’08 (of the ACLU). The panel also included Profs. Fallon and Kennedy and was moderated by Dean Kagan. It was important, in our view, to address both sets of concerns that have been raised in the wake of the Parody from students who are concerned about harassment and from students who feel strongly about preserving their free speech rights. Because this is exactly the kind of discourse our office wishes to foster, we provided the logistical support and funding to make it happen.
Finally, we agreed that as soon as the Parody changed leadership, we would arrange a meeting with the new Parody creative team and the students who have been most involved in this issue to offer suggestions for next year’s show. In closing, I want to encourage the students who wrote last week’s anonymous letter to get in touch with me to discuss other ways to further this discussion. In response to what was characterized as “silence,” I can only say that I believe that actions speak louder than words.
Ellen Cosgrove Dean of Students