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On the importance of free speech

I was not a frequent reader of the Collegian’s Opinions section until my first op-ed was published on Nov. 12, 2015. While I had written for the News and Features section, the Opinions section seemed almost trivial to me — surely no change would emerge from yet another student voicing their complaints about the Master Plan or AVI.

I am now a co-editor of Opinions; December marks the end of my second semester working on the section, and it’s safe to say that I no longer think the section is frivolous. I realize now that the Opinions section is crucial for expressing unpopular viewpoints and upholding the promise of free speech.

Recent issues of the Collegian included some of the semester’s most controversial content. The publication of an op-ed entitled “SJP brings extremism to campus” (Nov. 3) provoked written responses from multiple students, organizations and a professor arguing whether poet and activist Remi Kanazi should be invited to perform at Kenyon. I read Facebook posts shaming the Collegian. I overheard students in a residence hall accusing the Collegian of having corrupt intentions. After hearing these complaints, my instinct was to be upset — not because the views published in Opinions necessarily reflect my own, but because the Collegian staff works exceptionally hard to put forth a weekly newspaper, and hearing criticism from our readers can be disheartening. Then, Nov. 8 happened, and the Collegian’s backlash became even more relevant.

Among countless think-pieces and New York Times articles trying to explain how Trump got elected and what this will mean for the world, one that stuck out to me was “The False Promise of Respectful Difference,” published on The Kenyon Thrill on Nov. 14. Guest-written by Biz Berthy ’17, the piece was well-articulated and uncovered a truth that was hard to swallow: Even our beloved College is home to frightening rhetoric and discriminatory behavior, as shown by recent reports of misogynistic chants and homophobic slurs that Berthy described in her piece.

In her piece, Berthy implicitly called out a Kenyon news platform for publishing articles that “explicitly label the Muslim and Middle Eastern students here as terrorists.” While there is a line between free speech and hate speech, silencing someone’s voice, even if it’s controversial and frightening, is less productive than having an open dialogue. Trump’s election has resulted in increased normalization of white supremacy and open prejudiced views; the only way we can prevent this hateful rhetoric is through increased conversation, not banning certain viewpoints.

I regret the lack of an open and productive dialogue on the presidential candidates before the election. In preparation for the election issue of the Collegian, my co-editor Tobias Baumann ’19 sent out a Student-Info email requesting submissions in support of the presidential candidates. Unsurprisingly, we received multiple responses in favor of Hillary Clinton and zero in favor of Trump. We tried to solicit responses from students who we knew supported Trump and none of them came forward.

Perhaps if more productive discourse occurred earlier in the campaign trail, the results would have turned out differently; part of the reason why Trump won is because so many people, including Kenyon students, didn’t see him as a viable candidate.

To the critics of the Collegian and the section I edit, thank you for holding us accountable. Just like the news outlets that did not effectively report on the campaign, we are not perfect. Instead of trying to silence opinions, I invite everyone who disagrees with our reporting or is offended by an opinion to write an op-ed. If you don’t think the Collegian is a platform for you, make it one. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Maya Lowenstein ’18 is a sociology and film major from Toronto, Ont. Contact her at lowensteinm@kenyon.edu.

Maya Lowenstein

Maya Lowenstein is Opinions Editor of the Collegian.