On Sept. 14, the Wesleyan University student newspaper, The Argus, published an opinion piece titled “Why Black Lives Matter Isn’t What You Think,” a critique of the Black Lives Matter movement.
This article asserted, amongst other things, that the Black Lives Matter movement inspired or had a part in the assassination of police officers. This is an extremely dubious claim, based nearly entirely on anecdotal and circumstantial evidence. It cited a wide variety of inaccurate statistics and featured fact-checking on the level of the (national) FOX News Corporation. That opinion is entirely the view of the author, and the editorial board of The Triangle does not endorse it in any way.
Nor was that opinion endorsed by the editorial board of The Argus. Despite this, theft and vandalism of The Argus offices the following day, a call to boycott and a petition to the university administrators to defund the newspaper. Students complained that the paper did not provide a “safe space for the voices of students of color” and vowed to continue the boycott (involving continued destruction of newspapers) until certain reforms were made, including social justice and diversity training for all staff members and front-page space for marginalized groups and voices.
A student exercised their right to free speech to express an unpopular opinion. This is the purpose of the student newspaper’s opinion section–to provide a venue for opinions, even if they’re unpopular or just plain bad. Providing a “safe space” is just not possible while maintaining a shred of journalistic integrity.
Journalistic ethics frequently enters a gray area when choosing between the expression of free speech and the danger of hate speech. In school newspapers, we pose this challenge to undergraduates who are at the same time attempting to meet strict deadlines and operate what is essentially a small business, while still maintaining a heavy study schedule. Sometimes, mistakes are made.
The feelings of anger, frustration and the like expressed by the student body of Wesleyan isn’t surprising, if understandable. The reaction and target, however, is just as bad as the opinion itself. Attempting to silence a core student forum to protect students from harmful opinions does more damage than the harmful opinions themselves. Without the student newspaper, students might have no public space to express their opinions in a professional and official way, no way to acquire accurate information catered to their own perspective and no way to filter what is rumor and what is fact. Without the student newspaper, we are all subject to danger of being fed biased information from our universities and other sources, and, most dangerously, rumor and hearsay. Don’t fight the newspaper, use it (or you can write for it, too!).