Earlier this semester, Wesleyan University’s school newspaper published an op-ed titled “Why Black Lives Matter Isn’t What You Think.” In the piece, the writer blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for fostering animosity between police officers and the general public. While there was an understandable outcry against the article, the most shocking response came from within Wesleyan itself: its student government voted to cut the paper’s budget in half. The vote was justified as an initiative to reduce paper waste, but many students understandably saw the move as retaliatory.
The article, while in bad taste, did not warrant the budget slash. By choosing to punish the entire paper for the actions of one writer — and perhaps, one editor — the Wesleyan student government is doing exactly what the author of the original op-ed accused Black Lives Matter protesters of doing to police officers: judging an entire entity by one extremist. Although the original article may offend, the author must still retain the freedom to express his opinion, albeit ignorant, as an amateur journalist.
The purpose of an op-ed piece is to give students an opportunity to voice their opinions on issues, regardless of whether they are unpopular. The newspapers that students create and run should be safe havens, where the diversity of opinions reflects the diversity of the student body. Showcasing differing opinions is crucial in giving students a holistic education. This doesn’t mean that the opinions presented shouldn’t face public scrutiny and criticism, but pulling funding from a paper that publishes a controversial opinion directly opposes the principles of any academic institution — free speech and open discussion.
Honest discourse in journalism thrives on controversy. Over 800 comments on the article attest to the fact that controversial, even poorly reasoned, arguments can still give life to political discourse. There can be no change without passion, and nothing brings out passion like vehement disagreement. The defunding sends the message that while student journalists are free to argue any clear and logical opinion, including inflammatory or unpopular ones, they are still subject to the approval of the school’s student government. It is a journalistic responsibility of an op-ed to provide a consistent and plausible stance along with its controversial spark; defunding the paper for doing so opposes the very nature of journalism. While it is crucial for newspapers to be cautious and mindful of the content they publish, freedom of speech as well as freedom of the press are both deserved rights in these heated microcosms of journalism.
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