Wesleyan University students tied to Black Lives Matter are in a tizzy over the publication in the school paper of a mildly controversial column by a conservative student that was critical of the social movement’s direction.
Writing in the Wesleyan Argus, student Bryan Stascavage dared to opine that Black Lives Matter “is not legitimate, or at the very least, [is] hypocritical.”
In the piece, Stascavage suggested that the movement needs to moderate its message if it really wants to advance its core agenda:
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.
After reading the column, some student activists were outraged and called for the Argus to be defunded, and demanded the immediate reeducation of the paper’s staff until they become Right Thinking People. How would that be accomplished? Well, if the protesters had their way, there’d be a “once-per-semester Social Justice/Diversity training for all student publications.”
The petition they are circulating claims the paper does not provide a “safe space” for marginalized communities on campus. Until their demands are met, the students will boycott the paper because newspapers with ideas they do not approve of are thoughtcrimes that need to stopped.
It also notes that the boycott will not be limited to ignoring the paper. This particular boycott would extend to vandalism, by “disposing of copies of The Argus on campus,” according to the Argus. The Argus then attempted to solicit further comment by the protesters, but in Orwellian fashion, the protesters refused to speak to the newspaper, claiming that they were “not available to comment or be quoted in any article published by the same newspaper that we are boycotting for supporting institutional racism.”
Mind you, all of this came after the newspaper was cowed into issuing an apology (“for the distress the piece caused the student body”) three days after running the column, and then running a front-page opinion piece—the first time anyone could remember that happening—to reflect the opposing views of the protesters.
In a radical display of common sense, Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth blasted the efforts by activists to kill the paper on his official blog:
Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable. As members of a university community, we always have the right to respond with our own opinions, but there is no right not to be offended. We certainly have no right to harass people because we don’t like their views. Censorship diminishes true diversity of thinking; vigorous debate enlivens and instructs.
Let’s put this up front: College fights like this are, by their very nature, dumb navel-gazing affairs that nobody in the outside world tends to care about. In the grand media landscape, nobody cares about college newspapers except for professional reporters who love to relive their glory days on campus when they covered that crazy protest in the dean’s office.
But this incident mirrors a disturbing—and unfortunately growing—trend on American campuses: Students rebel not against ideas but against the mere discussion of ideas.
The cure for disagreeable speech, in the American marketplace of ideas, has always been more speech, not less speech. Instead of accepting the paper’s offers of joining the discussion, the protesters declined to speak. Instead of attempting to rebut the column’s points, the unhappy students attacked the newspaper’s right to speak—attempting to shut down the paper because it had run an opinion that makes them feel icky.
On the one hand, these types of actions by student activists are childish and easily dismissed. But they’re also a closed-minded and dangerous attempt at policing speech.
Calls for a robust debate, broad inclusion of “marginalized groups,” and more diverse voices ring hollow when you’re trying to shut down the primary place for having them.
Disagreement and discussion should be encouraged on college campuses, not halted by social justice warriors hell-bent on scrubbing all Bad Thoughts from the quad.
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