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Student Group Created in Response to Pfoho Poster Incident

UPDATED: April 15, 2015, at 1:29 a.m.

Two weeks after posters parodying a new campus magazine focused on issues of race and diversity prompted controversy in Pforzheimer House, a group of students have reacted by creating a “collective” to discuss free speech.

The students—who are calling themselves the “John Stuart Mill Society” after dropping "Pforzheimer House" from the group name—formed the group after a series of posters were placed in Pforzheimer that appeared to mock materials publicizing the launch of arts and advocacy magazine Renegade, prompting a fury of responses from students over the House email list. Pforzheimer House Masters Anne Harrington ’82 and John R. Durant responded to the incident with an email to the House indicating that they intended to “take those posters down immediately," referring to the parody materials. 

An individual student, not the House Masters, eventually removed the parody posters on her own, according to Harrington.

Students who created the new free speech group were “galled” by the the House masters’ original indication that they intended to take down the parody posters, according to Daniel J. Solomon ’16, a Crimson editorial writer and a member of the group who publicized the group over Pforzheimer’s house email list. Members of the new group, which currently numbers about 10, “are concerned about what that meant,” Solomon said.

One of the students involved in the new free speech group put up the parody posters, according to Solomon. Solomon declined to name the student.

In a joint email to The Crimson, Durant and Harrington wrote that in their original emailed response to the poster incident, they sought to explain the value they place in discussing difficult topics with a range of views. They also wanted to address the “unattributed posters that had appeared in our home and that were causing escalating confusion, anxiety and deep pain.”

“We had on the other side an open conversation on our student list about all the issues raised, no aspect of which was ever silenced,” Harrington and Durant wrote. “Never have we objected to the expression of any views, popular or unpopular.”

In addition to their objections to the House masters’ response to the incident, Solomon said group members take issue with the message they feel that a member of the magazine sent in comments over the Pfoho email list in response to the controversy.

Members of Renegade did not respond to requests for comment.

Sebastian G. Devora ’15, a Pfoho resident who sent an email over the House email list addressing the House masters’ response to the incident, said in an interview that the parody posters “were pretty offensive.” Still, he said he felt that it would have been “wrong” for the House masters to take them down given their position of authority.

Devora also said he thinks the new free speech group was “started mainly to antagonize.”

The group will meet on Wednesday evening in the Pfoho Igloo.

—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Ivan.Levingston@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.

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