Wesleyan petition sets uneasy precedent for press freedom

Many students at Wesleyan University have signed a petition calling for a boycott of the student newspaper The Wesleyan Argus, involving removal of print editions from campus. An op-ed published by The Wesleyan Argus that criticized the Black Lives Matter movement prompted this reaction. The op-ed argued the movement’s tactics and rhetoric are partly responsible for recent killings of police officers.

As reported by The Wesleyan Argus, students began circulating a petition declaring that the newspaper “neglects to provide a safe space for the voices of students of color and we are doubtful that it will in the future” and calling upon the student government to end funding of the newspaper unless certain conditions were met. The Washington Post reports the petition would eliminate funding unless several demands were met. These included mandatory social justice and diversity training for all staff members, space on the front page of each issue “dedicated for marginalized groups/voices” and monthly reports detailing the leadership structure and how funds are being allocated.

With this controversy, it is important to understand the workings and function of an opinion section, not only in a college newspaper, but in any newspaper. In opinion sections, the articles written by individuals represent the opinions of those individuals while editorials written by a newspaper’s editorial board are meant to reflect the opinion of the organization as a whole. Simply allowing an article to be published does not mean that all members of or even the leadership of a newspaper endorse or agree with the opinion. Otherwise, the opinion sections of newspapers would only consist of single opinions or those of a handful of editors, rather than the variety of opinions held by the student body.

When objectionable ideas are expressed in a public forum, such as a student newspaper, students should challenge the ideas rather than attempt to expunge them or the forum wherein they appear. Should students attempt to protect themselves from offensive ideas by imposing their own views as an unchallengeable orthodoxy, they would establish an oppressive hegemony of thought destructive to the intellectual rigor vital to college campuses.

Students should challenge those with whom they strongly disagree, and students at Wesleyan, or any college campus, should work with their student newspaper to create a welcoming environment and ensure that it is serving all students and not just a handful. However, using student government and a paper’s funding to silence dissenting opinion sets an uneasy precedent and threatens the freedom of press and editorial independence, which are crucial for any newspaper.