Lukewarm Column on ‘Black Lives Matter’ Sparks Demands for Reeducation

by Frederick M. Hess

Wesleyan’s student newspaper faces a defunding threat for (sort of) criticizing the movement.

Colleges keep finding new ways to define “hate crime” down. This week, more than 140 students and faculty at Wesleyan University in Connecticut have signed a petition to defund the school’s newspaper for running a student op-ed that (sort of) criticized the Black Lives Matter movement. The petition will be the subject of a university town-hall meeting next Sunday.

The column had the temerity to suggest that the drumbeat of vitriol that Black Lives Matter has unleashed on police may be sparking violence against police officers. Eager to take offense, the protesters attacked the Wesleyan Argus for failing “to provide a safe space for the voices of students of color.” They’re boycotting the paper (and seeking to have it defunded) until their demands are met. Their demands, as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, include that “space on the newspaper’s front page should be devoted to submissions from minority voices” and “diversity training should be provided to members of all campus publications.”

RELATED: Students and Faculty Petition to Defund Campus Newspaper Because It’s Not a ‘Safe Space’

The reaction of the student government to all this has been predictably craven. In a remarkable note, that body’s president (who had signed the petition) and vice-president wrote a note to the Argus pointing out that their platform called for “bringing equity and inclusion to the very core of the WSA [Wesleyan Student Association] and furthermore, to every part of campus.” They explained:

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. 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.

A response utterly removed from the fact that the protesters are seeking to silence free speech and public debate? Sure. But it’s far more striking if one actually peruses the column that triggered the outcry. In it, Bryan Stascavage, a second-year student, pointed out that seven police officers were murdered in the week before Wesleyan classes began — a few of them in execution-style killings. He asks whether Black Lives Matter is doing more to produce positive or negative social change, deciding “there is evidence to support both views.”

Stascavage continued, “I warned in an article last semester that a movement that does not combat its own extremists will quickly run into trouble. . . . 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.” He concludes by sharing his support for gay marriage and his regret that he never stood up to visibly break with those conservatives who feel otherwise. The column is less a ringing denunciation than a friendly caution to keep the crazies in check.

There are at least three notable takeaways from all this. The first is just how tepid is the column to which the protesters have taken offense. This matters, because it shows how powerfully the Left is circumscribing permissible speech. If this kind of gentle rebuke ignites a firestorm, it’s all too easy for campus journalists to decide they’ll steer away from anything but cheery praise when it comes to Black Lives Matter.

Second is how ludicrous the demands have gotten. The protesters aren’t asking for a chance to respond. They’re not pointing to any factual errors. They’re pointing to the mere fact of a tepidly critical op-ed as evidence of institutional racism — and demanding an appropriately heavy-handed response.

Fortunately, for the moment, the university’s adult leaders are displaying some admirable backbone.

Third is how hopeless is the response of student government. Subject to and buffeted by all the biases of the moment, the student leaders have made clear that they’re eager to help lead the call for reeducating the campus media.

Fortunately, for the moment, the university’s adult leaders are displaying some admirable backbone. Wesleyan’s president, Michael Roth, along with the provost and vice president for equity and inclusion, declared:

Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable. As members of a university community, we always have the right to respond with our own opinions, but there is no right not to be offended. We certainly have no right to harass people because we don’t like their views.

We’ll see whether Roth and his colleagues will stand firm if the protesters come for them. Let’s hope they do. Only that kind of principled response will finally cause this crazy campus fever to break.

— Frederick M. Hess is director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.