Responsibility and Inclusion in the Argus and on Wesleying

photo by Dat Vu '15

photo by Dat Vu ’15

It’s likely you’ve already read Bryan Stascavage ‘18‘s infuriating “Why Black Lives Matter Isn’t What You Think,” published Monday in the Argus’ opinion section. I’m not as Wes this semester, but it was apparent even from Facebook that I was not alone in my anger: in the past few days, many students have voiced their outrage at the article and its publication. As another widely-read campus publication, Wesleying has a responsibility to address these issues. Though my fellow editors are aware I am posting this, the following views are mine as an individual.

I am not going to speak to the content of the piece, though there is much to be said: on the supposed War on Police, on tone-policing, on moderate and radical politics. I know many of you are having those conversations, and I hope they continue. I will include some links at the end of this article, but just to be clear: I believe Bryan’s argument is condescending, misinformed, and racist.

What I actually want to address, however, is the Argus’ role in the entire situation. Yesterday, the official Argus Facebook page posted the following:

We acknowledge the frustrations of the student body regarding the recently published article “Why Black Lives Matter Isn’t What You Think,” and we take your input seriously. The articles published in The Argus’s Opinion Section do not reflect the views of The Argus or its editorial staff. Opinions are edited for style, not content. The view expressed in the piece is solely the view of the writer. We recognize that it is controversial, but as a student newspaper, we cannot censor the views of the student body.

Many individuals affiliated with the Argus have also commented, the general sentiment seeming to be that while almost everyone completely disagrees with Bryan’s article, they stand by its publication. The Argus is a campus newspaper, it’s a platform through which students can broadcast their views, it has no business censoring an opinion piece.

And yes, Bryan has a right to his opinion, and the Argus has a “right” to publish it. What the Argus also has, however, is a responsibility to the Wesleyan community, and in that, I believe, it has failed. To give such an article space when students of color are consistently mis- and underrepresented is unacceptable, and the outcry from students of color reflects this. Publications are not mere platforms for discussion, they are institutions that make choices. If Bryan had published this article on a personal blog, I doubt I would have read it. If Bryan were to stand in Usdan and publicly question the “legitimacy” of the Black Lives Matter Movement, my anger would be directed primarily at him and his supporters. That his piece appeared on the Argus website (and in print)–whether or not the word “Opinion” was highlighted–gives his argument a weight and significance it would not have otherwise. Whether or not the editorial staff of the Argus agree with him, they chose to publish his work, and on some level, that implicates them.

As Argus staff rightly noted in their apology to students of color at the end of last semester, one major issue is the lack of diversity within the organization. Writing on racism by those who don’t experience it is fundamentally limited, and if viewpoints like Bryan’s are for any reason going to be published, the experiences of students color–especially black students–must be given at least as much space. If the Argus wants to do better, it needs students of color on its staff–something Argus staff seem to be aware of. This awareness, however, seems to have manifested as a challenge in the form of an invitation: the Argus represents student voices; if you’re not happy, write for us!

This challenge represents the Argus’ biggest oversight. It is wildly irresponsible to put the burden of representing oneself on members of marginalized communities. People of color (and other marginalized groups) are constantly forced to make themselves heard in hostile environments; to ask students to do so in lieu of a true apology is incredibly frustrating. If the Argus wants to diversify its staff, it has a responsibility to actively make space for SOC voices–something it cannot do while publishing racist articles and issuing non-apologies. I suspect some bridges have already been burned; this does not serve as an excuse. The Argus can and should reform for future generations of students, if not present ones.

It would be irresponsible to write this without reflecting on Wesleying itself. Like the Argus, we exist primarily for the student body. Like the Argus, our staff is really white. If we want to represent “real student life at Wesleyan,” as we claim, we need writers with a range of life experiences. We need students of color–and queer students, and international students–not only to write about their specific experiences as members of particular identity groups, but to write about all the other stuff we cover, to more fully represent student life as it is and ought to be.

To do this, we have to be better. We have to do more than issue open invitations. Much of recruitment happens socially and informally–in this case, we need to expand our social circles as well. We need to apologize when we fuck up. For example, a recent Unofficial Orientation repost contained inappropriate memes of Kim Jong-un. Thank you to the commenter who brought it up; I’m sorry it was posted in the first place. As an editor, I need to pay more attention to what we post and be more comfortable voicing my objections. I need to be comfortable speaking as an individual–Wesleying has never been and shouldn’t try to be “objective.” We need to be open to and to actively solicit feedback, not just expect students to speak up with their problems.

I don’t doubt that we–and probably the Argus too–will make more mistakes, but I hope we stop repeating current ones. I hope we become a publication marginalized students want to contribute to, and that we hold ourselves accountable if we are not.

Related links:
The number of police killings in 2015: 846
The number of officers killed in the line of duty: 87 (46 of which were due to illness or presumed accidents)
On tone policing

  • Steve Weinstein

    If minority students are underrepresented (whatever that means), why does publishing this one op-ed make a difference? Why don’t the minority students write some op-eds? And how arrogant for you, a white person, to claim to be speaking for them!!!

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  • ethan bedbugs hoffman

    Totally agree with the emotions here. Brian’s article was disgusting. But I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think Wesleyan is a “hostile environment,” as you say, to opinions that run counter to Brian’s. That’s the whole reason this backlash has the smack of a knee-jerk, “coddled” (to borrow from POTUS) lack of self-reflection. At an institution like Wesleyan, people like Brian are in the minority–however wrong wrong wrong and however emblematic of the majority of white Americans his opinions are, this does not negate the fact that pro-BLM views are in the overwhelming majority at Wesleyan. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. What I am saying is that the irony of a whole community shouting that one student’s opinions are overrepresented is striking to say the least. Nor is the irony that while you say just invitations are not enough (and I agree, they aren’t enough to get more SOCs on Argus staff), your prescription is to be better at informal invitations. Aren’t you splitting hairs a little bit here?

    The underrepresentation of SOC at the Argus, Wesleying and at my old outlet, the Hermes, was a really important problem that I’m glad people are speaking to. But what, aside from difficult-to-action suggestion that people ‘expand their circles,’ do you propose?

    To add one last irony: hasn’t this whole reaction, at least in part, amplified Brian’s voice?

  • Annoyed Alumnus

    This is bloody stupid. Please stop making the school look like a joke.

    Opinions, whether you like them or not, deserve to be broadcast if they’re a part of the community. You cannot silence free speech because you disagree with it. Discomfort does not warrant silencing.

    If you dislike what was said, get a group of signatures that say they disagree with the op-ed and write a better one.

    What you’re doing now is no better than throwing a tantrum.

    You’re making Wesleyan look bad and pissing off a lot of liberal alumni. Grow up.

    Wes ’10

  • Come On Wes

    Wrong. The point of a newspaper is to showcase thoughtful opinions that challenge you to think beyond your current worldview, and to do so in fair balance with the preponderance of those opinions in the public discourse. There are people who feel as Stascavage does, and it’s important that we hear what they say, no matter how wrong they are.

    You are allowed not to like an opinion. You are allowed to prefer it wasn’t published. But the shame the Argus in this was is a joke, and you should all be ashamed of yourselves.

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  • Wickedwebsweunweave

    Yeah, your viewpoint is shameful from any Wesleyan student.

    As long as the opinion is civil and doesn’t implicate a Wesleyan student, we should support the right of any student to get any piece published. Its the basic concept underpinning a liberal arts university and furthermore a free nation. Its hilarious that so many like you so blindly rail against this publication for publishing something they disagree with: putting “right” in quotations, implicating that publishing an opinion shows allegiance with said opinion, calling for an apology. Censorship of any idea is so counter to the spirit of any rights movement that it shows a real lack of forethought and introspection to tacitly police what is “correct or incorrect” to publish within a well-read student publication.

    The Argus does have a responsibility to represent the social and political movements on campus, it is a failing if they didn’t provide enough coverage of a BLM march. However, the Argus has no responsibility to make space for POC, LGBTQA, or any other oppressed minority group’s opinion. Actively making space for any group is so contrary to the idea of unbiased journalism I can’t believe the point has to be made. If you want your voice heard, you make it heard. You think the article is racist? Then write an article (hopefully better thought out than this fucking mess of sheltered, hyperliberal hypocrisy) in the Argus countering it, I’m sure it will be welcomed. Opposing an idea by encouraging discourse rather than petty censorship is not only a basic concept of liberty, its so much more effective then these whiny pieces which don’t argue a point, but instead reject the very idea of an argument as oppressive in and of itself.

    The Argus has nothing to apologize for. Try fighting for your ideas like an adult instead of demanding to be catered to like a child.

  • pale_fire

    While the points made here about lack of diversity on the Argus staff are well put, are they relevant to the issue at hand? Irrespective of the makeup of the Argus’ reporters and editors, there ought to be a firewall between them and the opinion staff whose role is to publish other people’s work. No one (to my knowledge) has made any claim that the Argus’ opinion page has censored some opinions, or chosen to publish one view at the expense of the other. Rather, it seems that they publish virtually every piece submitted, either through regular columnists or in the form of a Wespeak.

    If the Argus was carefully culling pieces from a wide variety of submissions, this controversy would have more merit. But even then, that ire would be misplaced. Ideally, the inside fold of the paper is a place for legitimate debate. So long as a submission is not virulently offensive (and I’m defining virulently with a much higher standard — i.e. actively and willfully using racist tropes, etc.), it has merit to be published in the public square.

    So yes, please continue to push for my diversity among news and editorial (there is a distinction between this and opinion editors) staff. Call out racist and unsupported positions when you see them. But there’s not much value in blaming institutional actors for the views of an individual they give voice too — because their job is to provide that voice. It’s easy to call out the actions of an amorphous institution, but more difficult to accept the offensive opinion of a peer. Why? The kind of institutional reform this piece calls for won’t solve the underlying issue. The quandary is that such a view exists within our own ranks.

    If you hold such a view, and want to engage in that kind of difficult communal grappling, it’s difficult to think of a better place to express your views than the opinion page of the campus-wide paper. That’s why it must be able to accept your piece — or that of any other among us.

    • ugh

      is the “criminal/violent” person not a virulent racist trope? because that was the entire article.

      • ugh

        sorry, meant to say “criminal/violent BLACK person”