The Scripps Voice, the official student newspaper of Scripps College, came out in support of the college’s decision to suppress the voices of those on campus with whom it disagrees.
In its Oct. 16 issue, the newspaper featured a breathtakingly laudatory editorial in response to the Scripps administration’s decision to disinvite conservative columnist George Will from speaking on campus over a June 6 column that he wrote about sexual assault.
“The Scripps Voice stands behind – and applauds – the College’s decision,” the editorial reads.
The newspaper makes several arguments regarding why the college was justified in rescinding Will’s invitation to speak.
First, the editorial claims that “sexual assault is a bipartisan issue” about which there is no room for reasonable disagreement. On its face, there is some truth to this argument. Sexual assault is absolutely not a political question in the same way that, for instance, abortion is. Conservatives and liberals generally disagree about whether abortion is an inherently evil act, whereas both sides believe that sexual assault is always wrong.
But Will clearly was not arguing about the moral merits and detriments of the actual act of sexual assault in his column. Rather, he wrote about which acts deserve to be given the very serious label of “sexual assault,” which cultural institutions (or lack thereof) sexual assault is most prevalent under, and what our judicial response to sexual assault should be. These are questions surely up for political debate and discussion – ones about which conservative and liberal principles and philosophy are generally in disagreement.
Thus, Will was disinvited from speaking on campus because of his conservative views toward the issue sexual assault – in a guest lecture series designed to promote conservative views on campus – because the Scripps College administration personally disagreed with those political views.
It should also be instructional that only liberals and progressives are using the “sexual assault is a bipartisan issue” line. Where are the conservatives making the supposedly bipartisan argument that there is no room to disagree about political questions tangentially related to sexual assault?
Second, the editorial argues that allowing Will to speak after writing such a column would be harmful to the Scripps community, as it would trigger the past traumas of sexual assault survivors.
Yet, the Voice fails to mention that the only reason they are writing about Will’s column is because the Scripps administration chose to disinvite him from speaking on campus. Many people on this campus – perhaps among them survivors of sexual assault – only read Will’s initial column because of the political brouhaha that ensued after the disinvitation was revealed.
Will’s column would not have been required reading had he simply been allowed to come and speak on campus, nor would attendance at the talk have been mandatory, and it is very likely that the only mention of sexual assault would have been during the Q&A session. It can be argued that the Scripps administration did more to trigger past traumas by rescinding Will’s invitation than they would have by letting him speak. (Of course, in its defense, the administration was probably counting on nobody finding out about the disinvitation.)
Third, and most fallaciously, the editorial argues that, because Will’s First Amendment rights were not violated by the disinvitation, he was not really “censored.”
Aside from the fact that no one is claiming that Will’s First Amendment rights were violated, this is a very dubious argument – and a bit of a troubling one coming from a newspaper with the word “voice” in its name. Perhaps it is best rebutted by a simple thought experiment.
Hypothetically speaking, were the Scripps administration to, say, take a stack of the most recent edition of the Scripps Voice and throw it into the trash, perhaps because it disagreed with one of the articles, would the Scripps Voice claim that they had been censored?
One need not think long on this question, because that is exactly what the newspaper claimed to have happened last year, when it intentionally left its Feb. 17 issue’s front cover blank in order to protest “student censorship” on campus.
It is ridiculous to think that political censorship can only exist within the sphere of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Just because it is not an American governmental entity doing the censoring does not mean that one has not been censored.
Finally, while the arguments raised by the Scripps Voice are far from persuasive, they are also straw men.
The real question up for debate here is not whether George Will expressed a conservative point of view, if what he wrote was insensitive, or if Scripps technically “censored” him by rescinding his invitation from campus, but whether the university can fulfill its primary purpose of creating critical thinkers and responsible citizens by presenting only one side of any given argument.
Is the modern-day university doing its students a disservice by shielding them from opinions about which they may disagree and that they may find hurtful? Can the academy properly function while only presenting certain acceptable points of view for debate and discussion?
You won’t find out by reading the Scripps Voice.