Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Dear Wire, You’re Preaching to The Choir

At a liberal arts college, we are promised that our perspectives will be challenged. Whitman’s professors excel at this, especially if those perspectives mean tipping further to the left. The Whitman Wire, on the other hand, struggles. Opinion writers stick to what’s safe — cancel culture, universal healthcare, gender equality — you get the point. These are important topics that deserve attention, but the Whitman community is not the target audience. The majority of Whitman students don’t need to be reaffirmed that they are on the right side of history because they support equitable access to healthcare. Instead, opinion writers need to challenge the beliefs of the majority.

John Stuart Mill, most famous for his utilitarian philosophy, wrote about the importance of freedom of thought and discussion in his essay “On Liberty.” In what he terms the “marketplace of ideas,” people are free to express different opinions and beliefs without fear of censorship or punishment. Today’s punishment amounts to social alienation, making censorship a hot issue in newspapers and at colleges around the country. This phenomena dissuades journalists from writing about controversial issues, the very issues that need attention. None of The Wire writers want to be shunned by their peers or personally attacked on Yik Yak. However, as journalists, opinion writers have a responsibility to put themselves in front of the fire and take the heat. For a good journalist, this can even be the fun part. 

If you’ve been paying attention to the news on higher education in recent years, you’ve probably heard about (or seen) students shutting down controversial speaking events on college campuses. I’m no expert on Millian philosophy, but I don’t think Mill would classify today’s academic institutions as marketplaces of ideas. Of course there is a line to be drawn — inviting a Nazi to campus can jeopardize Jewish students’ ability to practice free speech. But finding this line is a struggle — ideally, students from different parts of the political spectrum can express their ideas without harming their peers and without fear of alienation. But considering the state of The Wire and higher education as a whole, it’s clear that the comfort of students is given too much weight. Having your views challenged is supposed to be uncomfortable — nobody wants to be wrong. 

Prioritizing student comfort at all costs interferes with the free flow of ideas. This forces students to silence themselves because they’re afraid of being mislabeled or shunned. As journalists, we have to be aware of this imbalance. And it’s a shame because academic institutions are supposed to be places where we can explore different perspectives and engage in dynamic debates. 

For now, journalists need to embrace the discomfort that comes with arguing for an unpopular opinion. By doing so, we hope to foster a new kind of environment: a space where students can freely question ideas without the looming specter of labels or cancellation. Embracing this discomfort becomes paramount for journalists committed to a true marketplace of ideas on campus. 

Freedom of thought and discussion means constantly checking current beliefs, thus preventing harmful ideas from restricting people’s rights. It means putting yourself in the crossfire despite the social consequences. Throughout history, journalists and other civic actors have played pivotal roles in societal progress by taking intellectual risks. It’s how women got the vote, how the civil rights movement took off and how Copernicus contested the structure of our solar system. 

As student journalists, we have a unique responsibility to take full advantage of our platform by challenging popular opinion and promoting Mill’s vision of the free exchange of ideas. In a climate where comfort trumps controversy, writers need to resurrect the spirit of intellectual curiosity and open debate. Only through discomfort can we shout into the echo chamber of Whitman. The Wire’s opinion writers could use a reminder of this. 

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  • J

    Julie CarterSep 14, 2023 at 2:13 pm

    Great article for our times outside of Whitman as well. Our society has become polarized into camps because we do not think we can handle the discomfort and conflict. Being curious about another person’s beliefs and ideas does not mean our negating our own. Instead respect and interest in difference can add nuance to our own beliefs, create areas of common ground and reduce isolation. Tolerating discomfort does take courage.
    These comments to the article are spot on as well. Why not be interested in how a person’s faith nourishes them in their lives? Indeed our society needs more empathy.

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  • S

    SamSep 14, 2023 at 9:30 am

    Beautifully put! Discomfort is the surest path to empathy, something our world sorely lacks.

    Reply
  • M

    MehrimoSep 14, 2023 at 9:28 am

    this is a great article. I strongly agree with the writer. Whitman lacks tolerance towards unpopular opinions. It feels like you always have to fit in by agreeing to the opinion of the masses. You hide your identity from people to not be judged and sometimes you even sacrifice your personal values to preach to the choir. Let’s say for instance having a religous belief. Telling someone at Whitman you go to church every Sunday feels like saying “I am racist, homophobic, close-minded, conservative, etc.”

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