Contacting the Brown University ACLU
What does the Brown ACLU do?
The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920. Since then, its local organizations have offered legal defense for anyone arrested for exercising constitutional rights. Increasingly, ACLU efforts are focused on protecting liberty in battles in Congress and in state and local legislative bodies. The rapid growth in ACLU membership in recent years has strengthened the ACLU's legislative influence. At all times and in all places, the purpose of the ACLU remains constant: to protect the rights to freedom of inquiry and expressions, privacy, due process of law, and equality before the law guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution. It is decentralized, nonpartisan, and not involved in elections.
The Brown Chapter's primary function is to alert the campus to civil liberties issues by fostering debate and working to prevent the violation of student's rights. In the past, we have had some success in negotiating changes in University policy, including changes to the University Disciplinary Policy.
The Brown ACLU has a close and ongoing relationship with the Rhode Island affiliate of the ACLU; our President has a voting seat on the RI ACLU Board of Directors, and it is not uncommon for Brown ACLU members to volunteer at their office. We also confidentially refer students to the RI ACLU or other groups when they believe their rights have been violated. Our activities vary according to the energies and concerns of our members.
Over the past decade, the Brown ACLU has worked especially hard on making changes to the University’s disciplinary system. Our proposals on student representation within the system, sentencing guidelines, protection of Constitutionally protected speech, and other areas of concern are available on this web site.
From the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s, the Brown ACLU assisted the RI ACLU in its efforts to force the FBI and CIA to release their files on Brown University, under the Freedom of Information Act. This long-term project finally bore fruit in the early and mid-1980’s, when the FBI and the CIA gave the Brown ACLU a number of Vietnam War-era files dealing with the two agencies’ monitoring of political activists and “dissident” student organizations at Brown.
In the 1980’s, the Brown ACLU shifted its focus to the present state of student rights at Brown. Over the course of the decade, we successfully opposed two proposals to arm the Brown Police force with guns. We successfully ended Brown’s policy of printing social security numbers on student ID cards, and we forced Brown to stop distributing student directory information to local businesses without student permission. And in 1987, we began our campaign to reform the university disciplinary system by releasing a 20-page report documenting its flaws and urging correctional action.
In the 1990’s, our activities in this arena increased tremendously. We initiated a petition drive to bring Brown’s vague hate-speech code into accordance with Constitutional guarantees of free speech and Brown's commitment to free and open debate, proposed changes to the University Disciplinary Code which were endorsed by the Undergraduate Council of Students, collaborated with UCS on a Student Bill of Rights, investigated harassment of Brown students by University police, published the "Your Rights and the Brown Police" informative pamphlet, worked with the Office of Student Life to improve community notification of completed disciplinary hearings, organized a student referendum against Brown’s speech code which was supported by 70% of the voting student body, and investigated alleged mistreatment of mentally ill students. While there is still a long way to go, these continuing efforts have resulted in several changes to Brown’s code of conduct, and have significantly helped increase student awareness of the problems of the disciplinary system.
During the 1990’s, we also became active on issues of fairness in Brown campus housing. The Brown ACLU began a campaign to make most suites in the housing lottery co-educational (currently, all but a few are restricted to single-sex groups). And in the 1998-99 year, the Brown ACLU investigated accusations of racial discrimination in on-campus housing. Our statistical analysis of Brown’s freshmen housing found that Black and Latino students were overwhelmingly clustered in three dorms in Pembroke (Emery-Woolley, Morris-Champlin, and New Pembroke), while the centrally located dorms of Hope, Littlefield, and Wayland were overwhelmingly white. The results were published in the “Chronicle of Higher Education,” and led to important changes in Brown’s housing program.
As the Brown ACLU enters the twenty-first century, we plan to continue this tradition of dedicated work for the protection of student rights through activism, education, and negotiation.
Since its founding, the Brown ACLU has worked to educate the campus by hosting speakers with expertise in various civil liberties issues. In the past several years, our speakers have included:
- Nadine Strossen, National ACLU president
- Richard Cohen, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) president
- Dhoruba bin Wahad, Black Panther
- Steve Fortunato, ACLU lawyer for 2 Live Crew
- Jello Biafra, former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys and free speech activist
- Frank Wilkinson, followed by the FBI for 45 years for Integrationism
- Hope Nakamura, ACLU lawyer for outlawed pro-Palestinian group
- Dave Marsh, National Music Critic
- Alan Charles Kors, co-author of “Shadow University” and a founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
In addition, we host an annual Banned Films Festival, showcasing our favorite films that have been banned or censored.
- Room searches
- Police harassment of minorities
- Brown’s disciplinary system
- Brown’s speech code
- Right to demonstrate
- Administration political biases
- Fair and open housing