Wesleyan University student government slashes funding for their paper in retribution for publishing “offensive” editorial

On September 14, the Wesleyan University student newspaper, the Wesleyan Argus, ran an editorial written by one of its staff, Bryan Stascavage. Called “Why Black Lives Matter isn’t what you think,” the piece argued that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, created in reaction to fatal shootings of black citizens like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, was producing as a byproduct a damaging demonization of the police. Here’s an excerpt from Stascavage’s editorial:

I talked to a Black Lives Matter supporter, Michael Smith ’18, who recoiled when I told him I was wondering if the movement was legitimate. This is not questioning their claims of racism among the police, or in society itself. Rather, is the movement itself actually achieving anything positive? Does it have the potential for positive change?

There is evidence to support both views. Police forces around the country are making more of an effort to be more transparent, have undergone investigations to root out racist officers and policies, and have forced the conversation to the front pages after being buried on the back pages for far too long.

On the other hand, following the Baltimore riots, the city saw a big spike in murders. Good officers, like the one I talked to, go to work every day even more worried that they won’t come home. The officer’s comments reminded me of what soldiers used to say after being hit with IEDs in Iraq. Police forces with a wartime-like mentality are never a good thing.

Smith countered with, “You can’t judge an entire movement off the actions of a few extremists.”

I responded with, “Isn’t that what the movement is doing with the police? Judging an entire profession off the actions of a few members?”

. . . It is apparent that the man who shot the reporter and her cameraman isn’t a representation of Black Lives Matter. The question is whether or not the movement is setting the conditions of the more extreme or mentally disturbed individuals to commit atrocities.

. . . Smith does have a point, though. An organization cannot be labeled based of a small percentage of their membership. There is a reason why so many have shown up to protests across the country: there is clearly something wrong, and wrong enough to motivate them to exit their homes and express their frustration publicly. That is no small effort. The system is clearly failing many, and unfortunately they feel like they will only be listened to if their protests reach the front pages of the news. And so far, they are correct.

. . . It boils down to this for me: If vilification and denigration of the police force continues to be a significant portion of Black Lives Matter’s message, then I will not support the movement, I cannot support the movement. And many Americans feel the same. I should repeat, I do support many of the efforts by the more moderate activists.

. . . At some point Black Lives Matter is going to be confronted with an uncomfortable question, if they haven’t already begun asking it: Is this all worth it? Is it worth another riot that destroys a downtown district? Another death, another massacre? At what point will Black Lives Matter go back to the drawing table and rethink how they are approaching the problem?

As you see, this is hardly strident (giving points to the other side), and even if you strongly disagree with or completely reject its thesis—I for one think that the BLM has raised valuable questions about police and societal racism—the question raised by Stascavage is surely worth considering and discussing.

Or so one would think.

But that ignores the tremendous offense that even questioning the BLM movement would arouse in the “offense culture” of today’s American college campuses. As Boston.com reports, many students were infuriated. They signed a petition demanding that the paper be boycotted, its funding be cut, and that the paper institute training in social justice and diversity as well as create a a perpetually open space on the front page “dedicated to marginalized groups/voices.”

The expected happened. The paper caved, issuing a groveling apology for the editorial, for the lack of a simultaneously appearing counterargument, for “giving the writer’s words validity,” and for failure to make the paper a “safe space for the student of color community.”

That wasn’t enough. According to the Hartford Courant, on Wednesday the Wesleyan Student Asseembly voted to slash the Argus’s budget more than 50%: from $30,000 to $13,000 a year, a move the Courant called a “knee jerk reaction”.

It is. The Argus is being punished for promoting free speech, in this case a form of free speech that some students found offensive. But whether you agree or disagree with Stascavage’s editorial, by no rational criterion can it be seen as “hate speech.” It’s simply the kind of conservative editorial you find in newspapers throughout the country, and its thesis does merit consideration. Once again the Campus Thought Police have succeeded.

It’s curious then, that although the student government punished the paper and is trying to censor what it publishes, the University’s own president, Michael S. Roth, issued a statement defending the right of the paper to publish that editorial. Roth’s personal university website, Roth on Wesleyan, said this in a piece called “Black Lives Matter and so does free speech“, and the article was co-signed by Wesleyan’s Provost as well as its Vice-President for Equity and Inclusion. In part it says this (after mentioning a panel discussion on the issue):

Earlier in the week The Argus published an op-ed that questioned whether “the [BLM] movement itself [is] actually achieving anything positive? Does it have the potential for positive change?” Many students took strong exception to the article; it was meant to be a provocative piece. Some students not only have expressed their disagreement with the op-ed but have demanded apologies, a retraction and have even harassed the author and the newspaper’s editors. Some are claiming that the op-ed was less speech than action: it caused harm and made people of color feel unsafe.

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.

In the long run, Wesleyan will be a much more caring and inspiring community when we can tolerate strong disagreements. Through our differences we can learn from one another.

“There is no right not to be offended”: a paraphrase of Salman Rushdie. The article by Roth and his university colleagues is a wise statement, one echoing the University of Chicago’s position on free expression. The bullying tactics of the Wesleyan students are reprehensible, but I do feel sorry for those who feel that even newspaper editorials must conform to their opinions. What happens when they enter the real world and are exposed to rough-and-tumble journalism? If this is bad, what will they think of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or Ann Coulter? There’s no censoring them!

49 Comments

  1. Randy Schenck
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Not sure that I would feel sorry for the students who went after the paper. They are just more of this new thinking that no one should be offended and if they are we must shut down free speech. Wherever they are getting this from, they need to give it back. And while they are at it…get a history lesson on their own country.

    • Dermot C
      Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      On free speech, Cardiff University students are trying to ban from speaking…Germaine Greer. Like Bede’s bird, at the start she’s out in the wilderness, then she’s in the hall, and at the end she’s back outside in the wilderness. x

      • Geoff Benson
        Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        Yes I saw that. I don’t like Germaine Greer much but trying to ban her from speaking is total insanity.

        What’s the point of having speakers at all if you only ever invite those who conform to a particular point of view?

        • Scott Draper
          Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          I sort of wonder at the benefit these days of having a speaker at all. I can listen to anyone in the world on YouTube in the comfort of my living room.

          • Randy Schenck
            Posted October 23, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

            You could be right and the tradition of the speaker is kind of in the past. Part of why we do not have the great – on their feet speakers of old. It’s all pre-recorded and taped. In the U.S. in the 1800s it was an event. People would come from miles around to hear someone speak – mostly outdoors and standing up. The Lincoln-Douglas debates are always remembered but some, such as Robert Ingersoll would attract very large crowds and it was considered big time entertainment. YouTube is okay but there is something about a live speech.

  2. Dermot C
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Sendhil Mullainathan, Economics Prof. at Harvard, on the statistics of police shootings of blacks. According to him, the data don’t show widespread racism among individual coppers, but rather a higher statistical likelihood for bluenoses to have interactions with African-Americans. x

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/upshot/police-killings-of-blacks-what-the-data-says.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share&_r=0

    • Scott Draper
      Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      ” According to him, the data don’t show widespread racism among individual coppers”

      That isn’t quite what the article says.

      It is simply that — for reasons that may well include police bias — African-Americans have a very large number of encounters with police officers.

  3. mordacious1
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that the police were involved in the Trayvon Martin incident, other than investigating the aftermath.

  4. charitablemafioso
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    This editorial is considered hate speech? I get if you disagree with it, but hate speech? These students who were calling for the author’s head on a like have missed a key concept of a university education: being exposed to new ideas, critiquing them, and arguing them. And that’s pathetic.

    • Posted October 23, 2015 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I get if you disagree with it, but hate speech?

      Why of course it is hate speech! It: “caused harm and made people of color feel unsafe”. And only the most hateful of writers would want to do that. Therefore it is hate speech!

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted October 23, 2015 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      “Pathetic” is exactly the correct word imo. WTF are these kids doing at a university if they don’t want to be exposed to new ideas? They, of all people, should know that the way to counter speech you disagree with is not to ban it, it is to provide better arguments.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 23, 2015 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      Looks like quite a moderate editorial to me.

      I *hate* these precious little twits who think that anything less than 100% unquestioning agreement with their views is offensive and oppressive. They should just grow up.

      (That last paragraph was a hate speech ; )

      cr

      • rickflick
        Posted October 23, 2015 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        To assuage your guilt, you can ask to have your current income reduced by 50%.

  5. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    These students […] have missed a key concept of a university education: being exposed to new ideas, critiquing them, and arguing them.

    Yes. entirely.

    • rickflick
      Posted October 23, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      That’s why it’s questionable if they should be given so much influence (cutting the paper’s funding, etc.) They are still learning at this point and may need more time to adopt key concepts. By the time they graduate they should know better how to handle responsibility. Fund the paper independently, and let the students write their own counter-opinions.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted October 23, 2015 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        Good idea re funding.

  6. Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    “What happens when they enter the real world and are exposed to rough-and-tumble journalism?”

    Although there seems to be a worrying trend to try to neuter that, too …

    /@

  7. Posted October 23, 2015 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    To tie this back to another recent post, it’s worth noting once again that questioning the efficacy of BLM is considered to do actual harm to students, in other settings having previously acknowledged physical differences between cis-gender and trans-gender people is grounds for “no-platforming” – again because speech is seen to cause real, physical harm to students; but shouting about “murderous, disgusting, apartheid-supporting ‘Zionists’ etc.” is totally fine.

  8. Mark R.
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    The article smacks of white privilege, especially the last paragraph, but the premise is something to be considered. Like others have noted, it is a far cry from hate speech, or even dislike speech.

    Apparently the protesters even stole a bunch of newspapers with Stascavage’s column in it. They found the need to steal away the spread of hurtful-ideas.

    I wonder if these young people who engage in anti-speech just don’t understand what free speech is (because of poor K-12 schooling?) or are just so ratcheted up, they can’t take any confrontation without being reactionary. Or perhaps being a SJW is the new cool? On WEIT, I also remember reading the helicopter parent argument. As with all social movements, there is no single cause. Either way, I think University heads are on the front line of this new social malady, and they need to grow a pair. And that doesn’t mean simply writing a defense on a personal website. The president’s defense was well realized and well written, but that’s not enough to change this wave of thought-police behavior.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 23, 2015 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      “I wonder if these young people who engage in anti-speech just don’t understand what free speech is (because of poor K-12 schooling?) . . . .”

      It certainly could be because of poor K-12 schooling.

      It also could be due to student anti-intellectualism/uncuriosity/self-regard/hubris, student oppositional defiance, poor parenting, Philistinic peer and general Amuricun (Exceptionalism) pop cultural influence.

      (Re: Hofstadter’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” and Jacoby’s “The Age of American Unreason.”)

      Would you say that former pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson had to have received at least a sufficient K-12 education? Per a separate post, he seems to be a kindred spirit to these (liberal?) students. Do you reasonably think that Carson has received insufficient information about free speech (and evolution)?

    • Anonymous
      Posted October 24, 2015 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      I find your use of the term “… grow a pair” sexist. Not to mention, as a man with a large spermatocele, I also find your comment ableist and deeply offensive. I call for the banning of your comment!

  9. Jeff Ryan
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think this was a particularly conservative column to begin with. I still go with Stephen Fry: “It offends you? I don’t give a fuck.”

  10. Posted October 23, 2015 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    People are lazy. It’s s much easier to call for an apology and a retraction than it is to write your own article rebutting one you disagree with or take offence to.

    /@

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted October 23, 2015 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      +1!

    • charitablemafioso
      Posted October 23, 2015 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Nailed it. Whining about your hurt feelings is easier than forming a cogent counter-argument.

  11. Posted October 23, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    “What happens when they enter the real world and are exposed to rough-and-tumble journalism?”

    I don’t suspect they will. They’ll only watch MSNBC, and read HuffPo.

  12. Curt Nelson
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    This is why the invention of hate crimes was a bad idea, because it aims to punish people for what they were thinking, which is a slippery slope problem that could lead to… this kind of thing.

  13. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Southpark most recent episode was about safe spaces. It was hilarious.

    • Posted October 23, 2015 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      “Southpark most recent episode was about safe spaces. It was hilarious.”
      Just watched it it was great.

      • rickflick
        Posted October 23, 2015 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXQkXXBqj_U

        • Posted October 24, 2015 at 12:30 am | Permalink

          Yeah I watched the full episode on Hulu. Great line near the end from the character Reality, who says “I’m sorry people but the whole world isn’t one big liberal arts college campus”. 🙂

  14. Robert Seidel
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I do get this right? They called for the paper to submit its writers to ideological schooling? Now where did I hear that before …

  15. Vaal
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    This is disturbing. And depressing.

  16. Posted October 23, 2015 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Smith countered with, “You can’t judge an entire movement off the actions of a few extremists.”

    I responded with, “Isn’t that what the movement is doing with the police? Judging an entire profession off the actions of a few members?”

    Stascavage’s comparison fails because it ignores the Thin Blue Line.

    …and then we enter bizarro world where the spoiled brats take that as evidence that he’s some caricature amalgamation of Hitler and David Duke and demand Stascavage’s head on a platter and start burning his writings.

    Why hasn’t anybody stopped the world for me yet so I can get off?

    b&

  17. Merilee
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  18. Marella
    Posted October 23, 2015 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I disagree wholeheartedly with the premise of the editorial. Once again the oppressed are being told to STFU in order to maintain “peace”. However the knee-jerk reaction to someone even asking the question, “Is it worth it?” was disgraceful. The answer is “yes, and it’s not our fault that under-trained police officers behave badly”, not to silence the people wanting to discuss the issue. The world is turning into Wonderland, where anyone who says something disagreeable is immediately sentenced to decapitation. “Off with her head!”

  19. Posted October 23, 2015 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I support what BLM is trying to do in general, but I understand the sentiment that they may be doing harm to their cause unintentionally.

    One of my relatives is very active in the movement. She is of mixed race and also active in the LGBT community. I’ve seen my very Catholic family shun her, but some of the stuff coming out of the movement lately is simply perplexing. One day she posted a status on FB saying that even if her white family and friends are with her, it isn’t enough, we are to listen, not speak. I fail to see how divisive rhetoric like this is constructive.

    We definitely have a problem with racism and police brutality in America, but conflating that with the idea that the whole BLM movement is beyond criticism is swinging much too far in the opposite direction.

  20. Posted October 23, 2015 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s a worthwhile question to ask as to whether the BLM movement is underestimating the mendacity and willingness to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the news media and whether that is contributing to the movement being framed in an “us vs them” narrative that cable news is selling. I don’t question BLM’s motives or principles, only their media savvy. But, if I were a columnist, with a career and reputation to protect, instead of just some guy on a comment thread, I doubt my employer would be willing to publish such a a column and I, with my enduring love of self preservation, would probably not press the issue.

  21. Anonymous
    Posted October 24, 2015 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    “Isn’t that what the movement is doing with the police? Judging an entire profession off the actions of a few members?”

    Apples and pears. Police should adhere to much higher standards than a political movement.

    “caused harm and made people of color feel unsafe”

    This isn’t hate speech; it doesn’t demonize BLM; no incitement to violence.

    Where to draw the line for censorship:

    I only support censorship when the subject of an incitement to violence cannot defend itself. And only an independent judge can decide such matters.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 24, 2015 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      “Apples and pears. Police should adhere to much higher standards than a political movement.”

      Well, that is certainly handy and convenient for certain members of any given political movement. And it is certainly a compliment to them.

      Pray tell, what (if any) are the minimum baseline standards one should reasonably expect of members of any political movement?

      I gather it’s OK to say to them, “We don’t expect all that much of you”?

      What other groups, political or otherwise, ought one not expect much higher standards?

      • peepuk
        Posted October 24, 2015 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        There are a lot of obvious reasons expecting higher standards in a police-force then in a political movement.

        A police-force has an obligation to serve all members of society, the LSM has no such obligation.

        A police-force has the resources to check their members, the LSM lacks these resources almost completely. So the police force has a lot more control of the quality of her members.

        Policemen have much greater power than most civilians. It’s widely accepted that with greater power comes greater responsibility and accountability.

        Peepuk

  22. Diane G.
    Posted October 24, 2015 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    No wonder comedians have stopped appearing at colleges; but what a loss for both parties.

  23. sensorrhea
    Posted October 24, 2015 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    All this offense taking is just another form of power politics. The fact that people are allowed to gain power in the movement by taking offense not even for themselves, but *on behalf of others* is dangerous and stupid.

    It reminds one of the kind of shenanigans that went on with party purity power politics in the early phases of the Russian Revolution.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 25, 2015 at 4:11 am | Permalink

      Good point! Or the Chinese having kids spying on their parents after the Communist Revolution; or the whole system in North Korea now!

  24. HaggisForBrains
    Posted October 24, 2015 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Sub


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