As the co-chairs of Moral Voices, we are writing to address an online petition criticizing an upcoming event we planned. Moral Voices is a group, run through Brown RISD Hillel and funded by a private donor, whose mission is to raise awareness and support addressing an annually chosen issue of social injustice. Last spring, Moral Voices chose our topic for the 2015–16 academic year: violence against LGBTQ+ individuals and communities. Our decision to host Janet Mock as our keynote speaker came in collaboration with leading members of the Queer Alliance, the LGBTQ Center, Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, Sexual Assault Peer Educators (SAPE), Brown Center for Students of Color, and RISD’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement.
We were shocked and deeply saddened to see a petition launched requesting that Ms. Mock reject Moral Voices’ invitation due to its affiliation with Brown RISD Hillel. We, the MV leadership, are neither equipped for nor invested in arguing the merits of Brown RISD Hillel’s Israel/Palestine-related programming. This petition does, however, make us ask: given that Hillel is the center for Jewish life on this campus — with a mandate to support the interests and meet the needs of a very diverse constituency of Jewish students on College Hill (ranging widely in their political, religious, and cultural inclinations) — does simply engaging in a Jewish space render one unfit to do justice work?
The discussion of lateral violence within the LGBTQ+ community itself is central to this year’s topic. In challenging the legitimacy of our social justice work based on the group’s Jewish affiliation, the petition seeks to undermine our right to intersectional engagement and implies a need for us to cede spaces and relinquish causes that are very much ours. Moral Voices committee members represent diverse identities of sexuality, gender, religious affiliation, and ethnic heritages and we reject the charge that Hillel’s sponsorship invalidates our work.
Moral Voices, its partners, and the creators of this petition want to hear from Janet Mock. Our uniting factor is our commitment to addressing the injustices committed against LGBTQ+ individuals and communities. We hope you will all join us for this remarkable opportunity to engage with an inspirational activist.
Free tickets can be found here.
Natalie Cutler ’16 and Rachel Levy ’16