Recent occurrences on college campuses related to the publication of, then the later denouncement or retraction of provocative op-eds or columns, have triggered a debate about the presence of free speech on college campuses.
In September, the The Wesleyan Argus ran an op-ed in which a student criticized some of the methods of the Black Lives Matter movement. His op-ed sparked outrage and hurt across campus, prompting a group of students to demand an apology from the editors of the paper be printed on the front page—they obliged. A petition was already circulating to cut the funding for The Argus and redistribute the paper’s resources amongst four publications—the resolution passed. The President of the University issued his own statement in defense of the paper’s decision to print the story, saying “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.”
A similar situation occurred at Brown University. Two columns, “The White Privilege of Cows” and “Columbian Exchange Day”, printed in the October 5 and 6 edition of the Brown Daily Herald under a pen name were later condemned by the Herald’s editorial board as “controversial but also deeply hurtful.” The editors decided to remove “Columbian Exchange Day” from the online edition but the print version had already been sent to the publisher, leaving the article in circulation.
The purpose of this editorial is not to comment on the views of the writers, the response of the student body or the decisions of the Argus and Herald editors. Though we encourage you all to read the columns, the op-ed, the editorials, the statement of the president and related coverage in national outlets like The Washington Post, we want this to be more of an exploration of the state of free speech, grounded in the notion that “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” (Justice Louis Brandeis, concurring opinion in Whitney v. California, 1927).
The mission of the paper is to be the voice of Bates College. In recent years, that mission has been geared towards a particular part of our community: the students. We aim to be the one stop news source for the student body, reporting on topics that the students are talking about.
Foregrounded in the college’s mission statement is the notion of the “transformative power of our differences.” We as a community have made conscious efforts to respect and embrace diverse backgrounds, beliefs and thoughts. That said, there is more work to be done. More conversation, awareness and action is needed to establish a safe space and respectful environment for those who still feel marginalized and uncomfortable on campus.
As part of the editorial staff for The Bates Student, we are often presented with opinions that come into conflict with our own beliefs or the beliefs of the majority of campus. Printing op-eds does not legitimize the claims made in the piece nor does it mean we as a staff endorse the views of the writer. But not printing it because it is the unpopular opinion is contradictory to our commitment to be a platform for the spread of ideas and a catalyst for conversation. Controversial and provocative pieces can be challenged with more good speech, not the suppression of voices. As Wesleyan University President Roth points out, “Censorship diminishes true diversity of thinking; vigorous debate enlivens and instructs.”
There is the “unpopular” opinion, then there are the voices who feel silenced or feel there is no place for their voices to be heard. To those who have felt silenced in the past, know that The Bates Student is your paper. Let this be one of your platforms to have your voice heard and to educate your peers on issues of which there may be little awareness or understanding.
With that, we will hold all contributors to high standards of journalistic integrity. The staff is finalizing a Code of Ethics in which we list our standards and regulations. Any article that reports twisted facts, misattributed quotes or fabricated information has no place in our paper, as it undermines its credibility and contradicts our mission to provoke thoughtful conversation and discourse.
On this campus, in the presence of smart, insightful and provocative thinkers, we have the unique opportunity to raise our voice; with that comes the challenge to listen. This is a complex issue, and this editorial only begins to explore how we as a college handle voices and opinions that challenge our beliefs and our mission. We merely call attention to this right and opportunity, and affirm a core purpose of The Bates Student’s relationship with free speech in our community.
This article has been edited to reflect the proper spelling and last name of Justice Louis Brandeis.