It was Fall 2003 and I was a freshman at Wesleyan. Having grown tired of seeing pro-choice posters plastered all over the place, I decided to put a pro-life sign on the door of my dorm room. I checked with my roommate first, of course, and he was pro-life and didn’t really care what I put on the door. So I put it up. Later that night, I was sitting in the bathroom stall and I heard yelling from across the hall.
“Make him take it down!” said the girl who lived in the dorm room next to me. I immediately knew what the discussion was about.
“I can’t make him take it down!” my RA responded back, trying to keep his composure. “I don’t agree with it either, but he’s entitled to his opinion.”
The girl was crying and screaming now, and neither person involved in the conversation had any idea that I heard the whole thing. Her reasoning became more and more absurd, at one point suggesting, I kid you not, that I didn’t have a right to that opinion because I was a man. At that point, my RA was starting to raise his voice too, and soon the girl left his room and the conversation was over.
The sign didn’t stay on my door for very long. I found it torn into pieces later that week. I don’t know who did it, nor do I care. But it’s a sad day when people try to silence the opinions of others because they disagree with them.
There are folks on the opposite side of the political spectrum who are guilty of doing this same thing. For example, I know of so-called Christian Universities where students are not allowed to publicly speak out against and question the administration. One of these universities didn’t allow interracial dating until the year 2000. It’s amazing what can happen if we stifle free speech and impede discourse.
I was the editor-in-chief at the Argus for a semester, and in other editorial positions during other semesters, and we came across a similar problem then. The Argus published some Wespeaks that contained unpopular views, and was called Islamophobic, among other things. We published it because our policy then was not to publish personal attacks or hate speech (i.e. Let’s do this violent act to this particular group of people), but anything else was open to discuss. People outside of the Argus office didn’t know that a copy editor, who happened to be a Muslim, had read through one of the more controversial pieces before we published it, and while neither she nor most people in that room agreed with what was said, no one in that room seriously considered the idea that we shouldn’t publish it.
So, flash forward to 2015, and there is now a petition signed by around 150 people at Wesleyan at the time I’m writing this, to defund the Argus because someone wrote a controversial opinion piece about Black Lives Matter. And one student who signed the petition was quoted in the Argus as saying that “publication of this opinion is a silent agreement with its content, and a silent agreement to the all too prevalent belief that black [and] brown people do not deserve a voice, and that we are not worthy of respect.” Does this person understand what the opinion section of a newspaper is for? How could anything published in it, outside of a call to violence against a group of people, possibly be indicative of an entire staff having such terrible beliefs (in this case, I don’t even think the person who wrote that piece has the beliefs assumed in that quote)? When I, a political moderate, was editor-in-chief of one of the most Liberal newspapers in the country, I published many things that I did not agree with. Do you know that I even penned some of them myself? A useful but rare exercise is to write something in favor of an opinion that you disagree with. And in a tradition that I hope continues to this day, which sometimes resulted in that exercise, an Argus Staff editorial was written by one member of the Staff for each issue, and it had to be reflective of the Staff discussion about the issue that preceded it.
Let’s take a look at the list of demands for the Argus in that petition, fit to be published in the joke issue (which I hope still exists). Include a work study/course credit position? The Argus used to do that, and it was great (I took the course), but they would presumably need funding for that restored in order to have it again. A monthly report on allocation of funds and leadership structure? Yeah, it’s pretty much on a volunteer basis. The only semester I got paid was when I was editor-in-chief, and that was $500 total, which worked out to about $1 per hour. A Social Justice/Diversity training for all student publications? Yes, Wesleyan students getting more of that, in a required setting no less, is going to somehow make the Argus better. Excuse me while I go preach the Gospel to my Pastor. Active recruitment and advertisement? I’m pretty sure they do that. That’s how you get on the Argus staff. The makeup of that staff is entirely dependent on who volunteer s for it. And open space on the front page dedicated to marginalized groups/voice? I think they’re probably still trying to run a legitimate newspaper there. You know, one where top news stories are on the front page and the opinions section is somewhere inside, though marginalized groups and voices are more than welcome to participate.
Or perhaps you can find a paragraph like this one in that section, where I can state some of my personal beliefs, which are bound to offend people. I agree with the Supreme Court’s decision on Gay Marriage, and I disagree with the refusal of Kim Davis to step down from her position, despite the fact that I am a Christian who believes that Gay Marriage is against the Bible. We need separation of church and state, but we also need to allow those who dissent to voice their opinions, whether they are on the opposite side of the divisive (outside the Wesleyan bubble) issue of gay marriage, or against something, such as interracial marriage, that nearly everyone agrees with, as they should. We’ve come a long way as a nation, but we have a long way to go. I understand and agree with what many participants of Black Lives Matter are trying to accomplish, and I see why it upsets some folks when someone suggests replacing “Black” with “All” but I stand with Ben Carson, who i nstead suggests adding “All” in front of “Black” to include black lives snuffed out by abortion, as well as violence of any kind. And while we’re defending marginalized groups, why not defend one group that is utterly voiceless and stand with “Roe” from Roe v. Wade, who now wants that landmark decision overturned? Instead of fighting to defund the Argus, let’s fight to defund Planned Parenthood!
Let discourse ensue.
DiBlasi is a member of the Class of 2007.