Let's Applaud Wesleyan's Student Censors For Honesty

Earlier this week I covered a tumult at Wesleyan, where students claimed to be silenced by a student newspaper op-ed they didn't like.

The student op-ed criticized the Black Lives Matter movement in a manner that strikes me as more bootlicking than racist. This yielded a cringing and cringeworthy apology from the Wesleyan Argus' staff (bad) and a vocal commitment to free speech by Wesleyan's President (good).

Some Wesleyan students have responded with a petition and list of demands, which 171 students and alumni have signed as I write this. Here's a hard copy in case it gets disappeared. Edited to add: looks like critics are editing it to satirize it, so look at the hard copy instead for an accurate view of what it looked like.

I like the petition. I like it because the students aren't pretending to be anything but censorious: it's honest.

The students signing the petition agree to "boycott" the Argus, "recognizing that the paper has historically failed to be an inclusive representation of the voices of the student body." So far, this is a call for responsive expression, which is fine. From there it gets scary. "Most specifically, it neglects to provide a safe space for the voices of students of color and we are doubtful that it will in the future." In context, it appears that "safe space for the voices of students of color" means "a newspaper that won't print anything that this particular group of students of color finds objectionable," an aim worthy only of our open scorn.

"This boycott includes recycling the Argus," the petition continues. What does "recycling" mean? It means taking and throwing away copies of a free student newspaper so that others can't read content you don't like, and it's a nationwide problem, as the Student Press Law Center documents. People who respond to student paper content they don't like by trashing the paper to suppress it are thug trash, and it's nice of them to sign a self-identifying petition.

The petition goes on to demand that Wesleyan defund the Argus until their demands are met. Those demands include "Monthly Report on allocation of funds and leadership structure" (that is, more intensive control of a newspaper by student government), "Required-once a semester- Social Justice/Diversity training for all publications (Via Elisa Cardona/SALD office)" (meaning mandatory ideological conformity training on publications via school administration), and "Open spaces dedicated for marginalized groups/voices if no submissions: BLANK that states: 'for your voice” on the front page" (meaning, quotas for expression by particular predefined groups, somewhat like the thankfully-abandoned and Orwellian-named Fairness Doctrine).

Bear this in mind: Black Lives Matter is an explicitly political movement with explicitly political goals. Many of those goals — like questioning and monitoring disproportionate police violence against young black men — are worthy. But the notion that there is only one correct way to think about a political movement is monstrous and un-American. Wesleyan is a private school; they can abandon basic notions of free expression and turn their school into a training ground for ideological conformity if they want to. But isn't it thoughtful of these students and alumni to say exactly what they want, without equivocation? They've thoughtfully provided a list of people never to hire.

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  1. Mu says

    Every signer of the petition should be required to retake "Principles of the Constitution" 101 as they quite obviously sent a substitute to take the class for them. I applaud the Wesleyan's administration for actually spelling out the "you don't have a right to be not offended" message.

  2. Bgoods22 says

    As a fairly recent alum, this does not surprise me at all. I was, however very pleasantly surprised by the response by the administration. I think it's important to call out that this petition as yet has amounted to nothing and that the administration in this case actually seems to think free speech is important.

  3. Matt Miller says

    I think that your suggest that they "retake "Principles of the Constitution" 101" would only work if they had ever taken such a class in the first place. Unfortunately, I don't think that many people in the country ever have to be exposed to such principles.

  4. Daniel says

    Haha… The creators of the document left it open for editing. Someone has made some rather interesting changes to the intro.

  5. Craig says

    Well, they had to leave it open for editing so people could sign it. Anyone with a clue would have used one of the polling or survey sites (change.org, surveymonkey, etc.) rather than Google Docs, but that gives you an idea of how dumb these people are.

  6. says

    From the linked-to article:
    " The Argus’ publication of this opinion is a silent agreement with its content," (Michael Ortiz)

    It's hard to think of a more explicit admission that Mr. (I am, I admit, presuming gender based on name, a venal if not mortal sin) Ortiz does not believe in any sort of discourse or debate at all; if the publication of any opinion is 'silent agreement', then every newspaper, journal, magazine, etc, can only publish opinions that conform to its ideology. No point-counterpoint, no dissenting views, no open forums where multiple people are invited to contribute. Just a single, monolithic, voice, unwavering and resolute.

  7. Mike says

    Commenters suggesting that the petition-signers retake Constitution 101 should go ahead and retake it themselves, specifically for the portions that address what constitutional restrictions apply to private actors.

    That said, the petition was written and is supported by censorious asshats, no arguing that.

  8. Craig says

    @Mike: Although a private institution is not bound to respect freedom of speech, etc., the Constitution is nevertheless relevant here as a representation of the ideals and values of the United States. As private citizens, we should respect those values, particularly with regard to public discourse. It's not a strictly legal requirement, but a moral and philosophical one.

  9. SJE says

    I wonder to what extent students (and parents) might have some rights under contract law. If you pay for Weslyan, and there is a sudden curtailment of your rights of free expression, isn't that a violation of implied elements of the contract with the college? That is, while the first amendment is not binding on the college, it is highly relevant to reasonable expectations entering into a contract.

  10. Mikee says

    I'm really looking forward to a few decades when this new generation of wannabe dictators and petulant crybabies are vying for important political positions. Did I say I was looking forward to that? I meant it makes me cry.

    The worst part about all of this is that initially I supported the BLM movement and their goal. I still think their goals are noble, but it seems as though every single individual member of the movement is one of those wannabe dictators and/or petulant crybabies.

  11. says

    This is infantilization. Taking as my guide the teachings of the East, the purpose of life is to find an increase of happiness, and freedom from suffering. These come by using the five tools of human action and awareness – body, feelings, will, mind, soul – expansively; i.e., in ways that expand awareness; i.e., ways that give us more health, love, strength, wisdom, and joy.

    Notice the emphasis on the individual. No legal, political, or social body can force people to grow; we can only grow at our own rate. And we can only grow scientifically; i.e., experientially, by learning from our own experiences. Society can only hope, at best, to educate individuals about ways to find happiness and freedom at their own level. A lazy slob decides to venture out and find a job as a used car salesman, and we all cheer because it's expansive; he's increasing his chances of enjoying a better level of happiness and freedom. But if Gandhi had said, "Nuts to Satyagraha! I'm off to Calcutta to make a killing in rice futures" we would say, "This man has fallen." Because he's acted contractively. And he'll only learn by experiencing the pain consequent upon his unwise decision. His own nature will never be satisfied by adopting a lower dharma.

    The upshot of this line of thought is, of course: "To hell with the self-important tin-pot potentates in the student bodies and college administrators' offices who try to gather us in cattle pens and inject us with their beliefs." They may, in fact, be right in their aims – a fair society is wonderful; but an un-free society eventually fails, because the urge to find happiness by our own experiences, bitter or sweet, can never be suppressed. Asshats, too, need the freedom to grow.

    It's a positive help to have the insights that religion can give us, when understood scientifically. Only then, it seems, can we have faith that a free society can work out its way to happiness. Meanwhile, contractive leaders are the worst curse on humanity.

  12. Hasdrubal says

    @ Lizard:

    if the publication of any opinion is 'silent agreement', then every newspaper, journal, magazine, etc, can only publish opinions that conform to its ideology.

    There certainly are people out there who believe exactly this: Simply acknowledging something is equal to endorsing everything associated with it. My experience with such people is anecdotal, but my working theory is that the louder they are about political issues, the more likely they are to believe this.

    For example, a couple weeks ago there was a meme going around that Trump would have made exactly as much money if he had invested in an index fund as he made by starting businesses. I commented that that was an interesting data point with implications in favor of the Efficient Market Hypothesis, the rationality of the stock market and competetiveness of markets in general. Typical economics geek comment. The result was a personal friend getting outraged, calling me a Trump supporter and wage slave Uncle Tom with others piling on. In their mind, there were only two possible responses: Agreement with their perspective or a defense of Trump.

    (Admittedly, this is a pretty common reaction when I explain that there's already an economic theory, with research supporting it, on why the latest "This One Simple Trick Will Cure All The World's Ills, You won't Believe Nobody's Tried It Yet!" won't work as intended and will probably have negative side effects.)

  13. albert says

    Though I assume it's a typo, your use of 'venal' instead of 'venial' gave me a laff. Thanks!
    The Ortiz comment: "…" The Argus’ publication of this opinion is a silent agreement with its content,"…" is possibly one of the dumbest statements I've ever read. Who is this Michael Ortiz? Is he a student? Maybe he could explain how to interpret the situation where a paper publishes a 'pro' opinion, and 'con' opinion. Maybe he could define the word 'opinion' for us. God help anyone who hires this guy.
    What a douchebag.

    . .. . .. oh

  14. Bill S says

    I have recently begun to believe that, en masse, colleges are conducting a vast sociological experiment reminiscent to the "Third Wave" history lesson Ron Jones gave his students at Cubberton High School in 1967 (briefly: people will line up for authoritarianism if you dress it up right, and I apologize for that overly simplistic summary of The Third Wave experiment). That has to be the case, right? We cannot have bred a generation of late teenagers who will actively sign up to destroy the Bill of Rights and do so merrily.

  15. says

    There certainly are people out there who believe exactly this: Simply acknowledging something is equal to endorsing everything associated with it.

    Oh, gods, yes. I can't tell how many times I've gotten into flame wars for saying thus-and-such law probably is constitutional, or so-and-so is likely to lose this election, and having people assume that the outcome I think is most *likely* is the outcome I *desire*. This seems to be endemic; people have lost their capacity to separate what they WANT from what IS.

  16. says

    Though I assume it's a typo, your use of 'venal' instead of 'venial' gave me a laff.

    You assume wrongly. I'm just an idiot. But now I know the difference, and knowing is half the battle! (The other half is violence.)

  17. Pighat says

    I recall this happening many years ago at Penn where the PC police were mad about an editorial treatment of race and stole stacks of the DP. One student even bolted with a stack from the museum of anthropology, causing a panic in that setting obviously.

    As I recall the city actually responded by specifically criminalizing mass theft of free newspapers. This is wrong in any scenario.

  18. L says

    I'm really looking forward to a few decades when this new generation of wannabe dictators and petulant crybabies are vying for important political positions.

    How will we even notice the change?

  19. Tim says

    These children are the future. God help us all.

    In all honesty though, it seems to me that so far society has been reasonably efficient at beating the 'delicate' flower mentality out of these people when they hit the real world. I understand that there are more and more instances of this bleeding into actual society and not just the academic circles that are often the focal points of this censorious nonsense.

    My question is, do we think that there is a tipping point looming in the near future, or is it still at the stage where society can effectively play whack-a-mole with these instances where and when they occur?

  20. Gramps says

    It looks like now one has to seek permission to get to the actual petition… Obviously they only want the right kind of people to sign it, OR, they became annoyed with the unauthorized editing.

  21. Tammi L. Coles says

    "a training ground for ideological conformity"

    Because you believe that it was free of that before? That's an impressively naive statement. But "we are ideologically neutral" is also fairly consistent with most white responses to anti-racism campaigns.

    So I'm just going to chalk this comment up to a "whities gonna white" moment.

    Otherwise, trust that the same systems that don't teach critical thinking on issues of race also miss critical thinking on media. Of course media is racist (it's not a magical land where the issues that damn the rest of the country disappear) and, of course, poor awareness of what a free press means is shared across color lines.

    Otherwise, long-time lurker here. Keep up the good work.