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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

A Paper for the People

Issues related to race, privilege and language have been frequently and publicly discussed on our campus in the last few months. Town-hall forums were orchestrated by Miguel Fernandez, Chief Diversity Officer and Professor of Spanish. Numerous op-eds have been published. Some of these op-eds have incited powerful and pointed reactions. Katrina Drury’s “I’m Only Human” is one of them.

Many have disagreed with Drury’s statements. We commend those who have voiced their dissent. Others have taken issue with The Campus’ decision to publish Drury’s op-ed. Some of the pieces we publish are undoubtedly controversial. While the editorial board takes issue with the content of Drury’s argument, we stand by our decision to publish it.

First, we would like to clarify our publication process. Any member of the Middlebury community is welcome to submit a “Reader Op-ed” to The Campus. These “Reader Op-eds” are not submitted by members of the editorial board; pieces written by editorial board members are traditionally labeled “Notes from the Desk.” Opinions of the editorial board as a group can also — of course — be found in our editorials; read the Dec. 9 editorial, “A Call for Compassion,” for our board’s thoughts on race, cultural appropriation and language. In it we call on white students to proactively address racism: “our community must learn how to not be racist rather than simply how to not appear racist. This is not a chore; it is a vital and overdue opportunity.”

“Reader Op-eds,” however, come from community members who are not involved or affiliated with The Campus. These submissions must employ the same grammar and structure expected of newspapers. We do not accept articles that take the form of lists or poetry; there are other platforms on campus that publish this style of content. Likewise, “Reader Op-ed” submissions may not contain libel or violent threats, as indicated weekly in a disclaimer located in the grey section below the masthead: “The Campus reserves the right to deny publication of all or part of a submission for any reason. This includes, but is not limited to: the making of assertions based on hearsay; the relation of private conversations; the libelous mention of unverifiable events; the use of vulgar language or personal attacks.”

If a submission follows these rules and is able to articulate an opinion — no matter how controversial that opinion may be — we will publish it. We do not wish to be selective in this manner; to deem one article worthy and another unworthy would give our editors power they ought not to have. This means that we publish content with which we agree, as well as content with which we disagree. The Campus’ choice to publish an article is by no means equivalent to an endorsement. We do not solicit opinions from Middlebury students and we do not invent the ideas that are seen within the Opinions pages.

Some may wonder if publishing controversial pieces — pieces with the potential to offend — does our community any good. We’d argue that refusing to publish controversial pieces does the Middlebury community a disservice. Sometimes our op-eds contain incendiary ideas. Publishing a controversial opinion does not create a controversial opinion; it simply makes the opinion visible. Such visibility moves the reader to acknowledge that opinion’s existence within our community.

Once an op-ed has been published, it can be challenged. It can be debated. It can be persuaded against, modified, embellished, satirized, reworded or transformed entirely. Readers — members of this community — can come together to address some of the most challenging issues of our time. We can educate one another. It is only by making arguments visible — and therefore susceptible to critique — that they can be confronted.

We believe that a controversial opinion, one held unchallenged in silence and secrecy, benefits no one. The opportunity to question one another’s opinions can benefit us all. We are here to learn from one another, to understand histories and cultures with which we are not familiar, to discover the nuances between being “right” and “wrong.” To defend, question and amend what we believe — vulnerable to the reckoning of our peers — we must first say what we believe out loud.

Many opinions submited to The Campus are inflammatory and make members of our community feel unsafe. It has been brought to our attention that a trigger warning could prevent undue emotional stress for many students. Although an article may not contain a direct threat (as described in the aforementioned disclaimer), we understand that one can still feel threatened. However, the line between what is triggering and what is not is blurry and subjective; what is triggering to one student may not be triggering to another. The editorial board does not believe it should draw that distinction; to do so would serve in and of itself as a form of undue editorial power.

However, we understand that community standards may be shifting around what is acceptable speech. We hear those voices and we care. At the same time, we prize freedom of expression and don’t want to limit it without very serious discussion from the student body about what exactly those standards are.

Thus, we provide a platform for all Middlebury students. We assume the risk that some of that content does not fit the criteria for a universally safe space. Censoring views that threaten us does not eliminate the existence of those views. There must be safe spaces at Middlebury, but they are not within the Opinions pages of the paper. The assumption must be that content within has the potential to make one feel uncomfortable. This paper cannot be any safer than the voices that exist on the campus it reflects.

The Campus gives students space to voice their opinions. No one event or opinion should define this publication. This section is a reflection of the submissions we receive. If you feel your opinion is underrepresented in The Campus, we urge you to write your own “Reader Op-ed.” As a predominantly white editorial board, we acknowledge the distrust that minority students may hold for this publication. We are looking for ways to make this space more inclusive. The Campus is the student newspaper. You, the student body, are the curators of our content. We encourage you to write — and respond — with a sense of duty, compassion and integrity.