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Dana Walden, Opinion Editor

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This article is not accessible. Sure, it is published in The Wire, but who reads The Wire? Well, you, and those connected to the Whitman community. And, sure, it will also be published online, but who reads The Wire online? Aside from community members and a few Trump-loving trolls, not many people check the Opinion page. But this article is easy to read, right? I don’t know about that. I use words like “esoteric” and “social hierarchy,” which are not often used outside of academic communities. 

There are several barriers one might have to reading this article, but those barriers are nothing compared to the accessibility constraints one might have when trying to read, or simply obtain, a more important and seminal piece of academic writing. Scholarly work is only available to those with connections to an educational institution, or those who can afford to subscribe to digital libraries like JSTOR. Even if one were to find these works, say, at a library, it is unlikely that it would be written in parlance that could be analyzed without a degree. 

There are two somewhat obvious solutions to these problems. First, the intellectual community could strive to make academic research, writing and scholarship free and easily available online. Some organizations are already working toward this, but we still favor overpriced textbooks and journals for providing convenient and consistent access to information. If academic resources were published to the public, one would not have to jump through economic and social hoops to get their hands on an article that could change their worldview.

The second solution would be to make the language of our current and future academic contributions open to a wider audience. This would mean boiling our heady, field-specific terminology down to easily understood and digestible concepts. This may prove to be a challenge for some writers, but lack of vocabulary and prior knowledge is a substantial obstacle to comprehending a text; extensive schooling or expertise should not be required to simply grasp the language of a piece.

Maybe you agree with this “radical” plan, and maybe you don’t. Perhaps you believe you are entitled to be the gatekeeper of academic knowledge because you are paying Whitman’s expensive tuition for that very right. Perhaps you believe that equal access to esoteric intellectual canon could put you out of a job or bankrupt the worthiness of your degree. Perhaps you are depending on the social and economic capital that your time here will afford you, and you feel threatened. 

If these are your reasons for not supporting an effort to make scholarly information available, then the nature of your studies here have failed you. We are here not to carry on the tradition of elitism inherent in attending college, but to learn how to break down the systems that profit off that social hierarchy. No matter which way you cut it, all of us in this community benefit from inequitable dissemination of information, and it is our responsibility to see that inequity addressed.

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