It seems necessary that I preface this editorial by stating that these opinions are my own, and not the opinions of The Argus as a whole. It is unfortunate that in a community of bright intellectuals this needs to be said.
As most Argus readers are already aware, on Oct. 18, 2015, the Wesleyan Student Assembly voted in a unanimous fashion to consider substantially reducing the funds allocated to The Argus in its fall 2016 budget. The resolution came up in the wake of a petition that began circulating following Bryan Stascavage ’18’s editorial regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.
Much more was challenged than just the Black Lives Matter movement, however. The Wesleyan community as a whole was given a challenge: the challenge of criticism, the challenge of dissent. How would the community respond to a perspective that was in direct contradiction to the vox populi? Would the Wesleyan student body, which so vocally values diversity, absorb the heterodox stance into its public discourse, or punish its sources for daring to publish such heretical content? How would our community, a microcosm of the upcoming generation of leaders and innovators, respond when faced with the ultimate test of diversity: conflict?
Spoiler alert: We failed. We failed miserably. We failed in the most embarrassing, disgraceful fashion possible. Zeros across the board, red X’s down the page. Complete and utter ineptitude.
The first misstep was not the publication of the original editorial. In fact, quite the contrary: I commend both The Argus and Stascavage for their bravery in publishing a piece that would quite obviously generate some controversy. It is absolutely crucial for the proper exchange of ideas that our media of public communication not hold bias towards any point of view. Being an outspoken critic of the Black Lives Matter movement myself, I was delighted to see that my unpopular stance would not be censored by the largest publication on campus.
The first misstep was also not the immediate sentiment of offense by the majority of students. While offense is not a substitute for rational argumentation and is certainly not a reason to silence dissent, individuals have a right to feel offended by the views of others. Public policy should not be dictated by these feelings, but it would be foolish of me to insist others feel a certain way about anything.
The first brick on our road to national disgrace was laid by the authors of the petition to revoke funds granted to The Argus. The petition was predicated on the notion that The Argus is in some way not conducive to the participation of students of color. The Argus is an open extracurricular; anyone is allowed to join. As a new writer, I can attest to the fact that my race was not even known by anyone at the Argus when I began writing. In my opinion, minority students are just as welcome as anyone else to write for The Argus, granted they have the writing skills deserving of valuable print space.
Further examination of the petition reveals even more ludicrous notions. The petition outlined a mandate on “diversity training” for Argus staff. I could write an entire essay on everything that is wrong with this paradigm; however, I will limit my analysis to simply pointing out the obvious irony in the authors’ inability to properly handle a diversity of opinion. It seems they could use a bit of diversity training themselves. The petition called for a space on the front page of The Argus that would effectively be an advertisement for contributors of color, at the cost of valuable print space. It astounds me that we must resort to such condescending tactics. The idea that students of color need the assistance of marketing to voice their opinion is insulting. The crown jewel in the aforementioned legislation was the boycott of The Argus. The boycott sent a pretty clear message to the writers of The Argus: Either tell us what we want to hear or shut up.
I’d like to be able to stop here. I really would.
The second act of our tragic comedy was The Argus’ response to the petitioners (“In Response to Tuesday’s Op Ed,” Rebecca Brill and Tess Morgan, Wesleyan Argus, 17 September 2015). Instead of abandoning petty politics and adamantly expressing solidarity with their contributing writers, the editors-in-chief capitulated to the mob. They threw both Bryan and the integrity of The Argus under the bus. Compromise is not always a sign of weakness, but sometimes it is. It was the duty of The Argus’ leaders to stand in defense of an open forum of ideas and expression, and they failed.
Fortunately, it seems that Argus editors have taken stronger positions in defense of the Argus writers’ ability to publish freely since then. Better late than never, I suppose.
The climax of the story was the Wesleyan Student Assembly Senate’s Resolution 3.37. This is the legislation that I mentioned in the introduction. The WSA failed on multiple accounts. I’ll start with the obvious; it failed to uphold freedom of the press. Reducing funding in response to the content of the Argus is, in effect, a threat. It’s a threat to the Wesleyan community that, if you publish a viewpoint that differs from that of the WSA, you will be punished. If the WSA Senators had made the decision to reduce Argus funding irrespective of the Argus’ content, I would not fault them. (Granted, they would still need a good reason to do so.) But that is not what they did. Based on these events, I suspect that the WSA made these changes due to the content of Stascavage’s article.
A second, more nuanced misconduct was the unilateral manner in which the WSA voted. The 31 delegates present at the meeting submitted 27 votes, with 27 yeas and four abstentions. I am not in correspondence with anyone in the WSA, so much of my analysis is limited to conditional speculation. However, I am a student at Wesleyan. I do know that there is a sizable faction of students who oppose Resolution 3.37. The WSA vote does not come close to reflecting the sentiment of the body it represents. It should be questioned how well qualified our current WSA Senators are for their positions if their collective perspective on such crucial matters varies so vastly from a portion of the electorate. The four abstentions are reason for concern and raise several questions. Did they abstain on ethical grounds, possibly having close affiliations to The Argus? Did they abstain out of fear? If the former is true, then I do not fault the WSA. If the latter is true, then we have a very serious problem. The WSA would therefore be within our mob culture’s sphere of influence. WSA members who disagree with the masses would be given a scarlet letter, so to speak. Again, this is based on speculation, but should conjure some consternation.
We could pay a harsh price for this gross misconduct. News outlets across the nation have reported on this blatant violation of journalistic ethics. If we hope to attract the best and brightest scholars from around the globe, we ought to end this trend of childish misbehavior.
Melchreit is a member of the Class of 2018.