This is the final issue of my tenure as an Opinion Editor, and during such a volatile, strange, scary, and dangerous year, I have never been more aware of or grateful for having been given supervision of this kind of platform. Opinion sections of newspapers are a tricky thing; they so often can draw controversy for the wrong reasons, or be used to cause harm. However, an opinion section can also give rise to a great deal of good. We can speak truth to power, give platforms to vital experiences and narratives, and facilitate interpersonal connections. But this is a space that is difficult to negotiate, something that can so swiftly switch from doing good to inflicting harm.
This year, it has been my privilege to read an incredible array of diverse, well-written, and potent articles, ranging from analyzing women’s representation in film, to understanding the intricacies of campus conservatism, to Milo Yiannopolous’ general, violent boringness, to pugs, to spring, to an innumerable collection of reactions to the 2016 general election. As the section’s only returning editor from the previous semester, it has also been my privilege to work alongside an entirely new staff of incredibly talented, passionate, and intelligent writers as co-editors and assistant editors. As I graduate in a few weeks, I end my tenure proud of what I’ve been able to participate in, and who I’ve been able to do this with.
However, there is work to be done.
I do not wish to repeat too much of what the opinion section articulated in our joint op-ed, “Addressing Our Lack of Diversity.” It spells this out clearly: while there is somewhat more diversity in experience, argument, and identity within the section, we are extremely far away from what the section could and should be. Steps must be taken, and they will be. But in starting an initiative like this, there are many pitfalls that need to be addressed so that they can be avoided.
It is important for an opinion section to avoid being a monolith. We need a variety of opinions and perspectives in order to function as a place where dialogue can occur. But, as true as that may be, it is this ethos that so often leads to the publishing of potentially harmful, poorly formed ideas. Intellectual diversity only works with scrutiny. Everyone involved in the process of diverse journalism needs to hold writing to the highest possible standard. As a section, in order to move forward, we need to ask ourselves the same questions with every article. What is this piece arguing? How is it arguing that? How easily can it be disputed? How easily could it hurt those who are reading it? Could it be better articulated? Does it need to be paired with a counter-piece? Is it controversial because it needs to be or because it wants to be? All writers are subject to these pitfalls, and all writers need to be held to this standard. And ultimately, if, when being held to this standard, something crumbles, it needs to be tabled until it is up to the standard it needs to be. Otherwise, we will inevitably repeat our mistakes, or hire someone like Bret Stephens at the New York Times to craft unfounded, easily disputed, harmful articles.
Many will decry this as an affront to free speech, but this is an irresponsible understanding of the concept. Free speech and free press does not mean that it is our civic duty to publish anything and everything we are given. It is that reasoning that has led us to cause harm on this campus before. Free speech protects you from the persecution of the government, not the scrutiny of your peers. And for this section to function, the opinion section needs to rely on the scrutiny of these peers. If you are planning on submitting to this section, it is important to understand that your words will not go through unfettered. If it is not actively harmful, we will not edit your argument, but we will make sure that it is expressed clearly and responsibly, with clarity of style and substance. I realize that not every piece is something of sober seriousness, but even the sillier material needs to be held to a standard for this section to truly develop into what it can be.
For many of my fellow Argus members, and for myself, this is the first newspaper we have ever been a part of. Writers and editors here are often unpaid, and always students. This level of rigor in the observation and editing of content is difficult. But if we are to talk the talk, we must walk the walk, and make sure this is well-organized, functional and productive space: a space that isn’t derailed by poorly articulated pieces or pieces whose arguments only exist to put down others.
I am proud of this section. It has been a great joy in my life to work here. But, there is so much work left to do for this place to become the most productive and powerful space it could be. And we can only do so with rigor, scrutiny, and the dispelling of the concept that every idea and every article is worth publishing.