Students affiliated with the Black Lives Matter anti-racism movement have promised to remove Wesleyan University's student newspaper, The Argus, from its stands and pressure the student government to deny funding to the paper unless certain conditions are met.
In response to a recent Argus op-ed that was mildly critical of BLM's tactics, the protest group launched a petition calling for newspaper staff members to undergo diversity training and set up a space on the front page specifically for "marginalized groups/voices." If no one submits content for this space, Argus staff members are instructed to instead print an advertisement "for your voice." More than 100 students and staff members have signed the petition.
Unless these and other conditions are met, members of Black Lives Matter will dispose of any copies of The Argus they find. They also want the student government, which allocates funding to The Argus, to take action. Troublingly, they seem to have the support of both the student government president and vice president.
These details all come from The Argus's own reporting on the story:
Rebecca Brill '16, co-Editor-in-Chief of The Argus, said that The Argus is committed to repairing its relationship with the community but that she is concerned about the precedent being set by the boycott of the newspaper.
"We would love to work with the WSA on how to achieve diversity, but editorial independence remains a huge priority for us," Brill said. "There's an important conversation going on right now about The Argus representing the voices of all students; it seems counterintuitive to censor the voice of a student expressing their views, offensive as they may be to some. We will continue to publish even if we are defunded. It's our responsibility to cover news on this campus and to represent our community."
The petition was discussed at a recent student government meeting, and the minutes of that meeting seem to support The Argus's characterization of the situation. According to a member of the Student Assembly identified as "Sadasia":
"A group of concerned students met in response to the Argus article about the Black Lives Matters article. It wasn't fact based, and perhaps even openly racist. People argue this is a freedom of speech case. We aren't trying to negotiate that. We want to talk about how this article isolates the community. We met with the Argus. It was a good conversation; productive. We got our voice across. We said that Black Lives Matter is not something that can be negotiated. It's not a maybe, it's a fact. We felt as though the Argus should have published an apology. A few students asked for this and it didn't happen."
It's worth reading the "perhaps even openly racist" article that inspired this petition. That article was written by student Bryan Stascavage, a conservative and veteran whose work also appears in The College Fix. Here is a representative passage:
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.
Stascavage goes on to explain that he's frustrated with extremists in his own party who refuse to accept gay marriage, something he supports.
There's plenty to criticize in the op-ed, but it's hardly "openly racist." If agreeing with BLM about certain policy concerns but lamenting specific tactics is ipso facto racist, then there is simply no acceptably sensitive way to scrutinize BLM.
Wesleyan President Michael Roth issued a welcome statement in support of The Argus's freedom of speech:
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.
The students (and faculty! staff*) who circulated the petition have no interest in enlivening the debate, unfortunately; they wish only to control it. But they are insincere peddlers of diversity and false advocates of marginalized voices—after all, who is more "marginalized" at a private liberal arts college in Connecticut: the left-leaning activists running the student government or the lone newspaper conservative?
BLM's demands, though hostile to free expression and the educational mission of the university, are well in line with recent attempts by leftist student-activists to police speech that offends them on college campuses—often with the support of administrators who are all too eager to squelch dissent.
Is there anything more threatening to the health of a campus community than a purportedly "safe" space?
This post originally named the vice president for diversity as the president of the university. This mistake has been corrected.
*It was initially reported that at least two faculty members had signed the petititon. Popehat's Ken White has a copy of the petition here; it appears the two non-student signatories are staff administrators, not faculty.