The Wesleyan University newspaper is under fire from some students that object to a recent op-ed placing some of the blame for recent police shootings at the feet of the Black Lives Matter movement, arguing that activists must confront caustic elements in their ranks. The author writes:
“I warned in an article last semester that a movement that does not combat its own extremists will quickly run into trouble. The reasons why are now self-evident. If Black Lives Matter is going to be the one responsible for generating these conversations, then a significant portion of that conversation needs to be about peace. They need to stand with police units that lose a member, decrying it with as much passion as they do when a police officer kills an unarmed civilian.”
The rest of the article is a collection of conservative talking points related to the BLM movement, some of which I find convincing. It was by no means bomb throwing or contrarian for its own sake, yet the piece was too much for some student activists. The Washington Post reports:
“Members of the Student Assembly are now considering whether to act on a petition, currently signed by 170 students and staff members, calling for a boycott of the paper for failing to “be an inclusive representation of the voices of the student body” and neglecting to “provide a safe space for the voices of students of color.” The petitioners call for the paper to be stripped of its student group funding, and say they will remove copies of the paper from campus until certain demands are met, including:
– mandatory once-a-semester “social justice/diversity” training for all staff members;
– space on the front page of each issue “dedicated for marginalized groups/voices”
– monthly reports on the paper’s funding and leadership structure.”
I do appreciate any group of protestors that isn’t afraid to publicly call for the forced reeducation of its opponents explicitly. Yet, it’s likely too much to ask of activists threatening to destroy a newspaper to respect free speech and open debate principles, especially on a college campus.
This list of demands however is not innovative. We have seen the same requests made each and every time ideas and voices outside the university groupthink are mentioned or addressed. I have long been opposed to the principles inherent in building “safe-places” on campuses where students can be free of positions that challenge their own, but I cede that not all spaces are for ideal for open debate. But in what world is a newspaper to act as a “safe space?” This strikes me as another overreach by student activists that are unconscious of the ultimate outcomes to their rhetoric and tactics.
Michael Roth, Wesleyan University’s president, wrote the aptly titled “Black Lives Matter and So Does Free Speech.” In it, he wrote:
“Many students turned out for a powerful panel discussion on the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this week. The panelists underscored issues of structural racism in general and police brutality in particular. Earlier in the week The Argus published an op-ed that questioned whether “the [BLM] movement itself [is] actually achieving anything positive? Does it have the potential for positive change?” Many students took strong exception to the article; it was meant to be a provocative piece. Some students not only have expressed their disagreement with the op-ed but have demanded apologies, a retraction and have even harassed the author and the newspaper’s editors. Some are claiming that the op-ed was less speech than action: it caused harm and made people of color feel unsafe.
In the long run, Wesleyan will be a much more caring and inspiring community when we can tolerate strong disagreements. Through our differences we can learn from one another.”
It is always good to see university leadership stand by the core principles of their institutions, and not bow to the ravings of a handful of activists.
Genuinely, I can’t muster the enthusiasm for this played out conversation. We could go through all the same talking points arranged before these controversies occur and end up right where we started. We might bring up past opportunities both sides could have stood for free speech but let their ideologies twist their moral sense, or how our opponents just don’t understand “free speech.” When it is all said and done, we will all end the debate with each participant elevated atop their high horse, shaking their heads triumphantly at the opposition.
So let’s just be honest: we don’t really want a dialogue on these divisive issues. We are always implored to create said dialogue on issues of race, sex, and culture but we are kept in predictable spheres that actually limit honest expression. A dialogue means people can make uncomfortable statements, rather than regurgitating purposeless pleasantries. As an idea is excluded because it is deemed “offensive,” we fundamentally contend that we can only discuss an increasingly limited number of points.
Our society doesn’t want a dialogue; it wants a series of soapboxes segregated from each other.
Recognizing that dialogue is now dead, I offer a radical alternative that will solve all societal problems if implemented. Henceforth, let’s just yell at each other from our own corners of the Internet, knowing it undignified to stoop to actually listening to a different perspective. As we build our own little worlds, we can look at our ideological neighbors with derision and suspicion, recognizing that to speak to them honestly would ruin the safe-space we crafted for ourselves.
What could go wrong?
With this utopia achieved, excuse me as I spend the next hour yelling at Sean Hannity and those other morons at Fox News. Those clowns just don’t get it.