Three Pitzer College students are slamming a school newspaper, the Claremont Independent, for publishing an article about their crusade against white girls wearing hoop earrings after people on the Internet attacked them for their opinion.
In case you aren’t familiar with the story, a group of Latina students at Pitzer started what was essentially a campaign against white girls wearing hoop earrings on the grounds that that’s cultural appropriation. They spray-painted “White girls, take OFF your hoops” on a dormitory free-speech wall, one of the spray-painters sent out a campus-wide e-mail about how offensive hoops were, and another spray-painter replied to that thread with her own e-mail saying the same thing.
They, themselves, decided to make their opinions public. They made this decision repeatedly by taking multiple actions to ensure that their views on hoops reached a large audience. And now — now! — they’re mad at a school publication for covering them.
Earlier this month, three of the women — including the two women who had written the e-mails — wrote a post for LatinoRebels.com accusing the Independent of having put “young women of color in danger” by writing a piece about the controversy.
The post claims that it “seems that [the Independent’s] writer has released students’ emails and identities to a larger community.” Now, the article did identify two of the women by name: The women who willingly sent out those e-mails on the issue with their names attached to them. I have seen no proof that the writer actually did release anyone’s e-mail address, and it seems that the authors of the post haven’t either, seeing as they qualified their accusation with “it seems that” rather than stating it outright. If the author did do this, I don’t support that decision, but I also don’t think that it’s something we can confidently accuse him of, especially considering that students’ .edu e-mail addresses are not all that difficult to figure out.
According to the post, the women “now are facing harassment from ultra right-wing groups and individuals, including a death threat through Facebook messenger,” the post continues.
Obviously, death threats and harassment are not okay. What’s more, I know exactly what it’s like to receive them, because I’ve been through it myself. Once, I was flooded with threats of rape, death and other violence — including one e-mail wishing that I would die from the same disease that had just killed my mother — over a joke about Star Wars that I’d made on a late-night TV show. Basically, a popular YouTuber had picked up my joke and covered it on his channel, and then some of the people who saw it decided they hated me, and then those people berated me with unthinkable vitriol.
Make no mistake: I absolutely did speak out against the people who were threatening me, just like these girls did, and just like they absolutely should have. Here’s the difference, though: I never, ever censured that YouTuber for covering my comments. Why? Because I myself had decided to make this joke on television, with my name attached to it, which means that it was completely fair for this YouTuber to cover it.
This, of course, does not mean that we should consider violent reactions to be a normal, acceptable response to someone having said something publicly. But to say that we should not expect our attention-seeking efforts to receive attention when we’ve invited it? Well, that’s about as backwards as it gets.
Now, I understand that these students did not make their hoop-comments on a television show — but they certainly did make them in a way that invited public commentary. Think about it: If you are going to e-mail the entire campus about an issue, why would you then turn around and slam the campus newspaper for covering it? You yourself signaled that your comments were relevant to the entire student body by e-mailing them to the entire student body. Sending an e-mail to an entire institution with your name on it, and then suggesting that you intended for that e-mail to stay private is a completely absurd line of thinking. An e-mail like that could be called a press release before it could be called private communication, and it’s completely disingenuous to suggest that anything else is true.
If you want to keep your opinions personal, then fine. Do that. The best way to keep them not private? Spray painting them all over a public wall and sending them out to thousands of people. That’s not discouraging publicity; it’s demanding it.
This story was previously covered in an article on Heat Street.
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.