Magann: An Unjust ‘Solidarity’
Dartmouth activists should seek justice, not censorship.
This past Friday, a controversial guest column came out in The Dartmouth. The writer, a male undergraduate, suggested that his rejection from First-Year Trips Directorate amounted to discrimination, citing the 80 percent female composition of the directorate. The article provoked intense backlash.
On Saturday, the emails started coming in. Dozens of campus organizations sent out “letters in solidarity” to the campus Listserv, condemning the op-ed in unequivocal terms. This was a good thing; clearly, many students took deep offense at the article, and they weren’t afraid to voice their dissent. But some of the letters were troubling.
The Inter-Community Council, sponsored by Dartmouth’s Office of Pluralism and Leadership, published a statement condemning the editors of The Dartmouth for sacrificing “the safety and wellbeing of students in favor of supposed non-partisanship.” Multiple solidarity letters, the ICC’s included, insisted that the article did not deserve publication and that The Dartmouth should either apologize or retract it. The Inter-Community Council rejected the suggestion of submitting an op-ed in response, claiming that doing so would “imply that [the author’s] opinions are credible and worthy of debate.”
I sympathize with those who responded. Clearly, the op-ed struck them as deeply insensitive, and I respect that. The solution, though, is not censorship. And that’s what demands for The Dartmouth to retract the article are. The ICC, among others, advocated censorship on the grounds that the article constitutes hate speech, which The Dartmouth chooses not to publish. However distasteful and logically flawed it was, the guest column did not contain hate speech.
The main allegation of bigotry stemmed from the author’s suggestion that an 80 percent female directorate must result from affirmative action, not from merit. That logic may not be popular or accurate, but it in no way “endangers the lives … of those actively working to make this college a more diverse and inclusive institution,” as a solidarity email from Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority suggests. Claiming that an op-ed constitutes violence not only trivializes the all-too-real violence faced by oppressed groups. It attempts to silence debate by casting unpopular views as violent and thus deserving of censure.
Ideas don’t die when censored. They continue underground, voiced in private circles free from dissenting views. By publishing the op-ed, The Dartmouth exposed it to criticism, dealing it far more damage than censorship ever would have.
At the time of writing, 10 solidarity letters either call for an apology from The Dartmouth, criticize The Dartmouth for publishing the article or demand the retraction of some or all of the op-ed. Asian-American Students for Action, Dartmouth CoFIRED, Divest Dartmouth, EKT, the ICC, La Alianza Latina, Phoenix Senior Society, the Rockapellas, Sigma Delta sorority and the Stonefence Review all advocated such censorship. Their solidarity letters reflect a troubling belief that free expression hinders social justice. The opposite is true. Citizens should never trust those in power to define acceptable speech — after all, the powerful have not historically sided with the oppressed.
Authoritarianism is never justified. Press censorship is a tool of tyrants who impose their wills, not of campaigners for justice. And thankfully, most of the solidarity letters did not call for censorship. The Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault put out a solidarity letter just as critical as the rest. Without calling for the article’s redaction, the committee ended its letter with a thoughtful line, which deserves to be read in full: “While we are saddened that such rhetoric and ideas continue to exist at Dartmouth, we hope this article sparks conversations and reminds everyone that we must continue to be better.” The committee’s letter expresses strong disagreement with the op-ed and advocates change, but it rejects oppressive means. Tempting as it may be to silence disturbing views and ignore them, doing so hurts the cause of social justice. Unjust speech should be challenged with more speech, just as the writers of the solidarity letters did. This can be hard, even painful, but it must be done if hope is to oppose injustice.
I substantially disagree with the article, but I strongly defend The Dartmouth’s choice to publish it. I believe in the right of all people to express their views, even when I find those views abhorrent. Freedom of expression is integral to social justice. It must be protected at all costs.