What really matters
Black Lives Matter doesn’t matter this much.
At Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, the private liberal arts school is in the middle of a very public controversy.
Last week, the student newspaper ran a column called Why Black Lives Matter Isn’t What You Think. Written by staff writer Bryan Stascavage, it opined…
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.
Stascavage ended with…
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?
In the days since, Wesleyan activists with Black Lives Matter have done a lot more than write a letter to the editor. The Boston Globe has reported, “Wesleyan students want to shut down their own newspaper for its Black Lives Matter coverage.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education added that slightly less reactionary students are demanding, “space on the newspaper’s front page should be devoted to submissions from minority voices.”
That led Argus editors to post a staff editorial apologizing for “our carelessness in fact-checking. The op-ed cites inaccurate statistics and twists facts.” However, they didn’t list those stats and facts. They also apologized “for the distress the piece caused the student body.”
This entire mess distresses Frank LoMonte. He’s executive director of the Student Press Law Center.
“It’s totally legitimate for them to protest the paper if they feel ill-served,” LoMonte says of the Black Lives Matter students. “But it goes too far to insist that every issue set aside front-page space for a minority-perspective or to threaten the paper’s funding.”
Obviously, a private college isn’t legally obliged to continue funding the paper, but it would set a terribly intimidating precedent if making readers mad resulted in being de-funded. Would the readers really be better served by no newspaper at all? Obviously not. If the dissenters want to come up with a better newspaper, great, they can apply for funding and compete in the marketplace.
LoMonte’s days are spent defending student journalists from censorious administrators. In this twisted case, he’s defending students from students – and he has Wesleyan administrators on his side.
“Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable,” wrote Wesleyan president Michael Roth. “We certainly have no right to harass people because we don’t like their views. Censorship diminishes true diversity of thinking.”
Attention Wesleyan Black Lives Matter: You know you’ve lost your campus’s hearts and minds when frequent enemies are aligned against you. Even worse, you know you’re toast when Gawker makes fun of you with “lmao.”
As an SPJ national director, I’ve emailed the shell-shocked Argus editors, offering to help them any way I can. But since everyone is piling on the student protesters, I want to make them this public offer…
If Wesleyan’s Black Lives Matter will stop trying to shut down their student newspaper, I’ll help them start their own.
As LoMonte says, media can “compete in the marketplace.” I’ll help raise money for web and print publishing, and I’ll assist with all the boring logistics so the students who hate The Argus can create a media outlet they like.
This isn’t a shtick, ploy, scheme, or bluff. The last time I offered to help students start their own publication, they raised more than $5,000. I truly believe anyone who commits an act of journalism not only informs their readers but also themselves. That’s my only greedy self-interest.
So all it takes is this: Any of 147 students who signed the Wesleyan petition complaining The Argus “neglects to provide a safe space for the voices of students of color,” I’ll help you create that safe space. But you have to maintain it. I hope that matters enough for you to email me.
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