We write as concerned Divinity School Faculty in the wake of Professor Rachel Fulton Brown’s column on Milo Yiannopoulos, published in Sightings on February 16, 2017, to lay out our shared vision of the values underpinning our scholarly community.
We share the consternation that many members of the Divinity School community have voiced over the past weeks in response to the publication of this column. The “Packet for Rachel Fulton Brown,” published in Sightings on March 2, makes clear that Professor Brown promulgates a view of religion and theology that is not widely represented among the Divinity School community’s diverse views. In accordance with the University’s commitment to promote free expression, we do not dispute Professor Brown’s right to voice her opinions on these matters. However, we want to be clear that the publication of her column in Sightings does not imply that we condone these opinions, especially as her column supports an individual whose views are widely regarded as promoting racism, sexism, transphobia, and Islamophobia.
At a time when hate crimes are on the rise and the tenuous ties of public trust have been frayed, it is more important than ever that we come together as a community in the belief that the conditions fostering free speech are inseparable from the values of mutual respect and inclusion. The February 16 and March 2 columns in Sightings afford us the opportunity to reaffirm these core values underpinning the common project of the Divinity School—its students, faculty and alumni. While the University of Chicago Divinity School welcomes and supports a wide range of political and religious perspectives, the space for disagreement that such a range opens up is undergirded by our shared commitment to create a climate in which the defense of our own perspectives is accompanied by a receptive disposition towards others. It is our sincere hope that the deliberations and debates that occur in this space will be characterized by a high regard for the dignity and intelligence of our interlocutors. This means, among other things, that we support the right of students to pursue academic work freely in a climate of mutual respect, without stigmatization.
Finally, we want to thank those students and alumni who have come forward to engage in conversation around these events, and who have participated in the shared process of self-definition that such a moment affords us. We welcome the conversation and reaffirm our commitment to provide a space for the free exchange of research and ideas.
Margaret M. Mitchell
Susan E. Schreiner
Sightings is edited by Brett Colasacco, a PhD candidate in Religion, Literature, and Visual Culture at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Subscribe to receive Sightings in your inbox twice a week. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.