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OP-ED | At Wesleyan, A Shocking Disrespect For Free Speech

by | Nov 13, 2015 5:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Analysis, Civil Liberties, Media Matters, Opinion, Middletown

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These are dark days for free speech and campus journalism. Just in the last few years, there have been countless examples of campus strife over who can say what and when. One of the latest concerns Wesleyan University in Middletown, where the student government has retaliated against The Argus for publishing an op-ed that was moderately critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Disclosure: I received my master’s degree from Wesleyan and lived in Middletown’s North End for most of my time at the university. I had nothing but positive experiences there, but no longer maintain a relationship with Wesleyan beyond writing an occasional check to the development office.

The Wesleyan Argus, one of the oldest student newspapers in the nation, published the op-ed back in September. It was written by Bryan Stascavage, a 30-year-old sophomore, Iraq war veteran, and self-described moderate conservative.

Stascavage did not attack the Black Lives Matter movement in general but went after its more radical elements, whom he suspects are partly responsible for the recent wave of attacks on law enforcement officers. Stascavage’s piece was longer than necessary and he did ramble a bit. Yet I’d say he was entirely reasonable in his assessment and was clearly within the mainstream of political thought in this country.

The reaction stunned me. Even by the hypersensitive standards of political correctness that dominate the academy, the response among segments of the Wesleyan student body was over the top.

Within hours of the op-ed’s publication, a group of outraged students reportedly began stealing and destroying copies of The Argus. A petition demanding the Argus be defunded and boycotted began circulating. Moreover, the Argus was harassed by the aggrieved who demanded an apology.

In a school cafe, a student screamed at Stascavage, insisting that he had “stripped all agency away from her, made her feel like not a human anymore,” Stascavage told the Washington Post. Others students muttered “racist” under their breath as he passed by.

The Argus editors issued a sniveling apology lamenting, among other things, that the paper had failed to publish an opposing view next to it. Of course, they had no obligation to do so. Newspapers all over the world run stand-alone opinions pieces but are open to publishing alternative views in response. That’s the problem with the Wesleyan student government. Instead of immediately offering a column expressing an opposing point of view, they chose to simply slash the paper’s funding. In other words, getting even is better than more speech.

It is is shocking that students at an elite university like Wesleyan could display such profound ignorance on the matter of free speech. Then again, maybe it’s not so shocking when you consider that no less than a professor of mass media at the University of Missouri last week called for “some muscle” to remove student journalists attempting to cover a demonstration in a public place.

And as my colleague Barth Keck so eloquently observed on these pages last week, an obvious irony was lost on members of the Wesleyan student government when they retaliated against the Argus for publishing a piece by a veteran who has fought to preserve our freedoms, including the First Amendment.

University leaders are not known for their courage but Wesleyan President Michael Roth showed more moxie than the paper’s editors when he stuck up for the Argus in the face of the fierce backlash. Roth penned a letter, entitled Black Lives Matter and So Does Free Speech, in which he argued that “Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable.”

But the Wesleyan incident is really part of a much larger problem. On too many college campuses, too many students operate under the assumption that they have “a right not to be offended,” as Roth put it. I can only assume that attitude is handed down from those who are leading the students — namely their instructors.

From campus speech codes to microaggressions to safe spaces, the road to paradise where no one is offended is littered with the terms of victimhood and effrontery. In a nod to Allan Bloom, some have called it the “coddling of the American mind.” Now if we could only get the easily offended students to understand that the real world does not offer trigger warnings.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(14) Archived Comments

posted by: Lincoln | November 13, 2015  8:27am

The old saying “too much of anything is bad for you” certainly applies here.  Political correctness has been going down an extreme path for quite some time now.

You cannot say anything without be branded as something right now.  And with the social media militants / bullies out there, that something is never good and could ruin people’s reputations.

The irony is that even liberal academics and journalists/media are astonished by what they’re seeing with all this political correctness madness.

You reap what you sow.

posted by: Stingy Blue | November 13, 2015  11:54am

I’m not sure you have a sense of what it’s like to be a minority at a white college.  If you did, I think you would react to these episodes very differently.  What may seem like “being offended” to you is more like “being oppressed” to someone whose great-grandparents were slaves, grandparents couldn’t get a mortgage because of redlining, and parents got beat up by cops.  Spill ink on real problems - like the underrepresentation of minorities at white colleges and in academia.

posted by: Biff Winnetka | November 13, 2015  12:15pm

The Hypocrisy of the “Liberal”, “Progressive”, and “Tolerant” on full display, again.

Cowards…attacking a man who SERVED to protect their inalielable rights to be idiots.

posted by: Terry Cowgill | November 13, 2015  4:02pm

Terry Cowgill

@Stingy Blue: So you think suppression of free speech on campus is a imaginary problem? We must be living on different planets.

I do hope you’re not trying to excuse the actions of these Wesleyan students, oppressed or not.

Stealing newspapers and disposing of them is not an appropriate reaction to a newspaper column that did not oppress, but rather expressed a mainstream opinion contrary to the offended party’s own view.

posted by: Stingy Blue | November 13, 2015  4:25pm

I suppose I would agree that the bucolic northwestern corner of Connecticut is a different planet than Hartford’s North End.

posted by: Clean Agent | November 13, 2015  5:50pm

If I were the school president, my letter would have said this. “Dear misguided politically correct monsters, Let me make one point 100% perfectly clear. NOBODY attending Wesleyan University in the deep blue state of Connecticut is oppressed. NOBODY. If you kids can’t handle an opinion piece in a school newspaper, you are going to have a really tough time in life. God help us all. I QUIT.”

posted by: NoNonsense | November 13, 2015  8:05pm

Excellent, Mr. Cowgill. Simply excellent. These fragile, easily offended snowflakes are the future of this country. That scares the daylights out of me.

posted by: Aldon_Hynes | November 14, 2015  9:03am


Freedom of speech is a wonderrul thing, as long as the people speaking say things you agree with.  Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as it doesn’t criticize a news organization or call for its defunding.  Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as no one uses that speech to point out that you say things that hurt other people or that you’re racist.  Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, as long as long as it doesn’t injure your white fragility.

posted by: shinningstars122 | November 14, 2015  12:43pm


I read the gentleman’s piece and throw it into the pile that he more than likely does not understand what it is still like to be a minority in our country.

I am curious if Mr. Stascavage has since spoken with any of the national leaders of the BLM movement since he wrote this piece.

He is entitled to his opinion but that also leaves him open to support, which many commentators did share on the Argus site, or criticism for his op-ed.

That comes with the price for   being a journalist.

I think what people find uncomfortable, including the author of this piece, is that this type of reaction is the new frontier as a result of social media , as free speech can explode in minutes rather than days over anything.

People on both sides of the political aisle extrude in this constantly.

This allows people to shoot from the hit with raw emotion, regardless if they have all the facts.

The BLM came from this beginning and has matured from it as well.

Yet you cannot define it or restrict it as the ” cuddling of the American mind” quite the opposite as it frees it.

I would cite the #OWS movement as just one example.

History will judge if the BLM movement can become positive force of change but you have to applaud it for opening many eyes, mainly white, to what has continued to plague us..racial injustice.

What I find over the top is this op-ed stating this is a ideal example of demise of free speech. “These are dark days for free speech and campus journalism.”

I am sure the Hartford Courant of even this site would appreciate any story penned going viral regardless if it was right or wrong, inflammatory or logical or somewhere in the middle.

For many of us we are all to willing to dismiss what we perceive “as getting even is better than more speech” or victim hood or the rational that if it does not happen to me than it surely is not happening, miss much of what is going on here… that sadly a we have allowed ourselves to become ” cuddled” by a systematic endemic form of passive racism and bigotry in our country.

Instead of owning up to that problem we instead choose to fall on the sword that white privilege should not have to explain for something that we continually claim to have no stake in, awareness or responsibility for.

That is not an attack on free speech it is simply a reaction to fear, ignorance and injustice.

I would say with no irony that the war on terror in our country and the resulting   government mass bulk surveillance of all of its citizens, including journalists, is a far more   real and present danger to the Constitutional rights we are all guaranteed.

Is one to truly believe that a misstep, intentional or not, by the editorial staff of The Argus or the students of Wesleyan choice to respond the way they did a threat to free speech?

Quite the contrary as this is the newest expression of it warts and all.

posted by: Terry Cowgill | November 15, 2015  1:25pm

Terry Cowgill

Aldon, it is hardly “freedom of speech” for the student government to slash the funding of the Argus, unless as in Citizens United, you think money is speech. It is hardly free speech to steal copies of a paper containing an op-ed you don’t like and dispose of them.

For some reason you have chosen to inject race into the discussion, on your blog lumping me in with “those criticizing hurtful, racist, Islamophobic speech [who] shoot off their mouths.” That’s a pretty low blow.

No one is questioning the right of the students to boycott any product they don’t like. Nor your right to say whatever you want to about me or anyone else.

But please don’t lecture me about freedom of speech because it appears that your grasp of the subject is rather tenuous.

posted by: Aldon_Hynes | November 15, 2015  5:37pm


Terry, I suggested that freedom of speech should include the freedom of students to protest how their student activity funds are being spent.  While neither of us agree with the tactics of ‘stealing’ copies of what I understand is a free newspaper, I, for one, believe students do have a right to protest, and others should try to listen.

To me, freedom of speech includes the ability to criticize news organizations and student organizations.  It sounds like you don’t believe that is part of freedom of speech.

To suggest that I’ve injected race into a discussion about an Op-Ed about certain Black Lives Matters activists also seems extremely odd.  The whole discussion has been focused on race.

So, I will reflect your comment.  I’m sorry that my grasp of freedom of speech is so tenuous as to include supporting the speech of those who criticize various publications.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | November 15, 2015  8:40pm

The problem is pretty simple really. The far left is so far left, they’ve come around to the right. Bizarre, I know.

Getting caught up in the BS of the left and the right is really an exercise in futility. There are those that are aware, and those that are not. Both those groups are populated by non-thinkers of all stripes. It’s really that simple.

Those who are aware know it’s ok to criticize or oppose anything, providing your criticism or opposition does not affect anyone else. Ideas and opinions are good, bad acts are not. Criticizing a radical and divisive faction of an otherwise well intentioned movement is good. Destroying the copies of that criticism is not.

The world is s complex place. Either try to be aware of that. Or not. In that case twist up a fatty and listen to the blues. Happens to be one of my favorite pastimes.


posted by: Terry Cowgill | November 15, 2015  10:00pm

Terry Cowgill

Of course, freedom of “speech includes the ability to criticize news organizations and student organizations.” Are you suggesting confiscating newspapers and destroying them is less objectionable because said newspapers are “free?” This has nothing to do with criticizing anyone or anything. But with actions (destruction of newspapers and defunding) that are not consistent with the concept of free speech; hence my comment about your tenuous grasp of the concept. Ergo, your second paragraph is simply incoherent.

I never mentioned race in the op-ed, with only a tangential reference to the original controversial column that ran in the Argus. Then you invoked, however obliquely, white privilege with your odd reference to “white fragility” — whatever that is. I assume you yourself are exempt from the concept of white fragility? Presumably the concept is applicable only to the unenlightened and the great unwashed. If so, I plead guilty.

posted by: OutOfOutrage | November 16, 2015  4:02pm


I’m with Aldon. Here are some more examples of free speech: http://www.mediaite.com/online/dartmouth-protesters-disrupt-students-in-library-fck-you-you-filthy-white-fcks/  Perhaps if both sides act this way, we’ll really get somewhere.  #baskinginourpostracialamerica

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