Simmons told of defending a speaker at Brown "whose every assertion was dangerous and deeply offensive to me on a personal level." The speaker believed blacks were better off as slaves, she said.
Simmons drew applause when she opined that skipping the talk, as college president, would be "to choose personal comfort over a freedom whose value is so great, that the hearing of his unwelcome message could hardly be assessed at too great a cost."
"Protecting free speech brilliantly insulates us from from being silenced for own unpopular views," she said.
Simmons holds a Doctorate in Romance Literature from Harvard University. She is the first African-American woman to lead an Ivy League institution.