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.