Education

Students At Wesleyan Demand Abolition Of Free Press

The student newspaper of Connecticut’s Wesleyan University is being targeted with a boycott by left-wing activists who say the paper doesn’t do enough to accommodate “minority voices.”

The trouble for The Wesleyan Argus began a week ago when the paper published an op-ed by student Bryan Stascavage, who criticized the Black Lives Matter movement for having members who allegedly support anti-police violence. Students expressed so much outrage at the piece that just days later the paper published a staff editorial apologizing for it.

“The opinions expressed in the op-ed do not reflect those of The Argus, and we want to affirm that as community members, we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement,” the editorial said. The paper promised to publish a “Black Out” issue written entirely be racial minorities in order to atone for its sins, and also said it would institute a tougher fact-checking process to stop “questionable information” from being published.

But critics aren’t satisfied. On Sunday, during an open forum of the Wesleyan Student Assembly, a petition signed by 147 students and faculty demanded a boycott of the Argus and for the paper to lose its funding from the school.

“The undersigned agree to boycott the Argus, recognizing that the paper has historically failed to be an inclusive representation of the voices of the student body,” said the petition. “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.”

The petition calls for all copies of the Argus on campus to be thrown away until the paper gives in to all of the protesters’ demands. Those demands include creating a special front-page section dedicated to marginalized voices and forcing all Argus staff to be trained in social justice and diversity once per term, among other things.

The paper just might have to give in. The Wesleyan Student Assembly has control over some of the Argus’s funding, and both the president and vice president have endorsed the petition.

“We are supportive of the push for a more equitable and inclusive Argus,” the two said in a joint statement. “We hope that the cries for change from the students of color community will move The Argus’s leadership to action.”

One student who was interviewed by the Argus said it was necessary to take action to suppress opinions he thought were offensive.

“That the Argus chose to give this man somewhere to share his disrespectful opinion and to then have the Argus and its staff members defend the publication, hiding behind the argument of ‘well it’s not my opinion but he’s allowed to have it’ is frankly a great disappointment,” said junior Michael Ortiz. “The Argus’ publication of this opinion is a silent agreement with its content, and a silent agreement to the all too prevalent belief that black [and] brown people do not deserve a voice, and that we are not worthy of respect.”

Ironically, some of the paper’s lack of diversity may be the work of the student assembly itself. The paper noted in its apology last week that budget cuts from the assembly have left it unable to offer any paid staff positions, throwing up a barrier to participation for the less economically well-off.

Wesleyan administrators haven’t responded to the petition directly, but school president Michael Roth did publish a response to the outrage against the op-ed that emphasized that free speech matters along with Black Lives.

“Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable,” the response says. “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.” According to the minutes  f Sunday’s student assembly meeting, one protester labeled Roth’s response “disgusting.”

Meanwhile, over at The College Fix, Stascavage has recounted the turmoil his life has been thrown into by the controversy.

“People whispered “racist” or other pleasantries under their breath when I passed. In a cafe, an activist berated me in public for 15 minutes,” Stascavage writes. “According to one commenter on my column, my picture is being posted online with comments that ‘seem to be calling for violence’ against me.”

At one point, he says, activists stormed into the Argus’s offices and screamed at editors, demanding that the entire next issue be dedicated to apologizing.

Wesleyan, Stascavage says, is in the grips of a full-blown “cultural terraforming” designed to silence any public conservative voices.

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