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Wesleyan Argus Petition Essay

During the Wesleyan Student Assembly’s (WSA) open forum on Sunday, Sept. 20, members of the Senate discussed a petition calling for a boycott of The Wesleyan Argus.

During the Wesleyan Student Assembly’s (WSA) open forum on Sunday, Sept. 20, members of the Senate discussed a petition calling for a boycott of The Wesleyan Argus and the revocation of its student group funding. The petition will be the focus of a WSA-sponsored town hall meeting next Sunday, Sept. 27. This petition was sparked by a controversial article published in the Opinion section of The Argus last Tuesday, critiquing certain methods of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“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,” the petition reads. “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, signed by 167 students, alumni, staff and one Middletown community member as of Tuesday night, further lists five demands directed at The Argus. The boycott will include disposing of copies of The Argus on campus and insisting that its funds from the WSA are withheld until the demands are met.

These demands include commitment by The Argus to create work study/course credit positions; a monthly report on allocation of funds and leadership structure; a required once-per-semester Social Justice/Diversity training for all student publications; active recruitment and advertisement; and open space on the front page in the publication dedicated to marginalized groups/voices, specifying that if no submissions are received, The Argus will print a section labeled “for your voice.”

In accordance with the boycott, organizers of the petition declined to comment further.

“On behalf of concerned Wesleyan students we are boycotting the Argus until the demands are met,” organizers of the petition wrote in an email to The Argus. “Therefore we are not available to comment or be quoted in any article published by the same newspaper that we are boycotting for supporting institutional racism.”

Paul Singley, President of the Connecticut Society for Professional Journalists, said he believes that student publications should make a concerted effort to represent the perspectives of all students, but its First Amendment rights should not be threatened by publishing unpopular views.

“That’s what a good newspaper does,” he said. “It shares ideas, it shares opinions.”

WSA President Kate Cullen ’16 and WSA Vice President Aidan Martinez ’17 commented on the matter as members of the Leadership Board.

“Aidan and I ran last spring on the platform of bringing equity and inclusion to the very core of the WSA and furthermore, to every part of campus,” Cullen and Martinez wrote in an email to The Argus. “In this vein, we are supportive of the push for a more equitable and inclusive Argus…. We hope that the cries for change from the students of color community will move The Argus’s leadership to action.”

“We know it’s not easy,” Cullen and Martinez’s email continued. “This past spring, we initiated a complete constitutional and tonal restructuring of the WSA to elevate marginalized and historically unrepresented voices that we felt so desperately needed to be heard on campus. Through genuine and dedicated work, The Argus can make this change as well. And for this reason, Aidan and I stand in solidarity with the student of color community in their efforts to make their voices heard.”

Three WSA Senate members, including Cullen, have signed the petition as of Monday night. Currently, no official legislation to enact the demands of the petition is being processed by the Assembly.

“We have no resolutions on the floor or in the works at this time,” wrote Cullen in an email to The Argus.

The 2015 WSA Constitution is currently unavailable on the WSA website, but according to the 2013 WSA Constitution, the Student Budgetary Committee—which provides funds to The Argus every semester for printing and distribution costs—may require any organization receiving funds to report at any time, and reserves the right to reassume any funding allocated to a group before the end of the school year. The Student Budget Committee (SBC) is also constitutionally responsible for making recommendations to The Argus, among other student groups.

Tess Morgan ’16, co-Editor-in-Chief of The Argus, said that continued conversations with the student of color community, along with the suggestions of the petition, have led to new initiatives to diversify the newspaper’s staff, including SALD diversity training. However, she said, The Argus continues to have questions about the implementation of the petition demands.

“As far as work study goes, that’s something in the past we’ve had funding for, but that’s been revoked, so that’s completely up to the SBC to give us that funding,” Morgan said. “It doesn’t seem likely on their part that they’ll give it to us.”

Cullen did not respond to a request to comment on the process through which the petition might be drafted into an official WSA resolution, how the boycott would be implemented, or how the demands relating to all campus publications would affect Argus funding.

Michael Ortiz ’17, who signed the petition, explained the impetus behind his support.

“My concerns with the Argus currently regard mostly its commitment to representing the views of the campus,” he wrote in an email to The Argus. “….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. 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.”

Singley further addressed the trend of defunding student newspapers due to disagreement with editorial decisions.

“I think it’s a dangerous thing when you have the people that are controlling your purse strings determining what kind of opinions you’re going to allow to be shared in your publication,” he said. “You shouldn’t be second guessing whether you should publish something that you certainly have the right to just because you’re going to lose funding. That’s an unhealthy situation.”

Rebecca Brill ’16, co-Editor-in-Chief of The Argus, said that The Argus is committed to repairing its relationship with the community but that she is concerned about the precedent being set by the boycott of the newspaper.

“We would love to work with the WSA on how to achieve diversity, but editorial independence remains a huge priority for us,” Brill said. “There’s an important conversation going on right now about The Argus representing the voices of all students; it seems counterintuitive to censor the voice of a student expressing their views, offensive as they may be to some. We will continue to publish even if we are defunded. It’s our responsibility to cover news on this campus and to represent our community.”

This article was edited to reflect that the petition was influenced by an Opinion article appearing in last Tuesday’s edition of The Argus, and to reflect that the item in question is a petition, not a WSA resolution. It was further edited to update the number of signatories of the petition. A previous version of this article erroneously stated that the petition had been signed by faculty members. 

A 20-year-old man walks into a church and massacres nine people, claiming that he was afraid that America was being taken over by Black Americans, citing American race relations as evidence. About a month later, a man wears a GoPro, tapes himself walking up to a local reporter and a cameraman, and shoots them both on camera, proclaiming racial injustice in this country as his motive.

Police officers are looking over their shoulders as several cops have been targeted and gunned down. The week before classes started, seven officers were killed in the line of duty; a few were execution-style targeted killings.

An officer I talked to put it succinctly: “If they want to come after me, fine. Just come at me head on. Don’t shoot me in the back of my head. I’d rather go down with a fighting chance.”

Is this an atmosphere created by the police officers and racist elements in society itself? Many, including individuals in the Black Lives Matter movement, believe so.

Or is it because of Black Lives Matter? Many believe that as well, including a police chief who made his remarks after one of his officers was shot and killed—he claimed that Black Lives Matter was responsible for the officer’s death. Some want Black Lives Matter labeled as a hate group.

I talked to a Black Lives Matter supporter, Michael Smith ’18, who recoiled when I told him I was wondering if the movement was legitimate. This is not questioning their claims of racism among the police, or in society itself. Rather, is the movement itself actually achieving anything positive? Does it have the potential for positive change?

There is evidence to support both views. Police forces around the country are making more of an effort to be more transparent, have undergone investigations to root out racist officers and policies, and have forced the conversation to the front pages after being buried on the back pages for far too long.

On the other hand, following the Baltimore riots, the city saw a big spike in murders. Good officers, like the one I talked to, go to work every day even more worried that they won’t come home. The officer’s comments reminded me of what soldiers used to say after being hit with IEDs in Iraq. Police forces with a wartime-like mentality are never a good thing.

Smith countered with, “You can’t judge an entire movement off the actions of a few extremists.”

I responded with, “Isn’t that what the movement is doing with the police? Judging an entire profession off the actions of a few members?”

Hence, my concerns that the movement is not legitimate, or at the very least, hypocritical.

It is apparent that the man who shot the reporter and her cameraman isn’t a representation of Black Lives Matter. The question is whether or not the movement is setting the conditions of the more extreme or mentally disturbed individuals to commit atrocities.

Smith explained further. “Yes, but the police have an established system of reporting the bad officers. BLM is decentralized, they aren’t as organized. You can’t hold the more moderate elements responsible for what a crazy person does in their name.”

Perhaps. But that doesn’t explain Black Lives Matter rallies from cheering after an officer is killed, chanting that they want more pigs to fry like bacon. That wasn’t one or two people. The movement also doesn’t want to be associated with looters and rioters, calling them opportunistic. But it is plausible that Black Lives Matter has created the conditions for these individuals to exploit for their own personal gain.

I warned in an article last semester that a movement that does not combat its own extremists will quickly run into trouble. The reasons why are now self-evident. If Black Lives Matter is going to be the one responsible for generating these conversations, then a significant portion of that conversation needs to be about peace. They need to stand with police units that lose a member, decrying it with as much passion as they do when a police officer kills an unarmed civilian.

Smith does have a point, though. An organization cannot be labeled based of a small percentage of their membership. There is a reason why so many have shown up to protests across the country: there is clearly something wrong, and wrong enough to motivate them to exit their homes and express their frustration publicly. That is no small effort. The system is clearly failing many, and unfortunately they feel like they will only be listened to if their protests reach the front pages of the news. And so far, they are correct.

But this principle needs to be applied universally. I know many of us here at Wesleyan realize that most police officers are good people simply doing a service for their community, and that there are only a few bad apples. But those chanting to fry the pigs seem to have missed this message.

It boils down to this for me: If vilification and denigration of the police force continues to be a significant portion of Black Lives Matter’s message, then I will not support the movement, I cannot support the movement. And many Americans feel the same. I should repeat, I do support many of the efforts by the more moderate activists.

It is advice that I need to take myself. After the Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage nation-wide, a few liberals gloated in a conservative political forum that I like to read. They were surprised by the reaction: every conservative who responded was happy with the ruling.

I realize that moderate conservatives need to speak up more as well. If we had, gay marriage might have been legalized years ago. Instead, I got the feeling that a lot of moderate conservatives were afraid of speaking up about the issue and being labeled as a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

I also understand the frustration of moderate Black Lives Matter members, like the one I talked to, about being stereotyped based off of a few radical and vocal members.

Kim Davis, the misguided clerk who is refusing to hand out marriage licenses, is a perfect example of this. As a conservative, it is infuriating to see one clerk in one city out of the thousands in conservative states making headlines, when the rest are handing out licenses with no issue. One clerk is making headlines and is being held up as evidence that conservatives hate homosexuality. Kim Davis generated a couple hundred supporters, a very small showing.

Yet I am not innocent when it comes to Kim Davis. I could have gone down to the courthouse and joined the counter protest, holding up a sign that says “conservatives for gay marriage rights,” and made a statement that Kim Davis is not representative of the mainstream conservative views. I don’t blame those who can’t support conservatives for not being more vocally pro-gay rights, though many liberal politicians were also silent on the issue during the 1990s and 2000s.

Returning to Black Lives Matter, the country is nervously waiting to see what happens next. The next unarmed civilian to be killed, the next officer to be killed, the next radical racist to take their views to the next level.

At some point Black Lives Matter is going to be confronted with an uncomfortable question, if they haven’t already begun asking it: Is this all worth it? Is it worth another riot that destroys a downtown district? Another death, another massacre? At what point will Black Lives Matter go back to the drawing table and rethink how they are approaching the problem?

Bryan Stascavage is a member of the Class of 2018.

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