Monday, February 13, 2006

"Racist and Bigot" - The Battle Over Political Correctness On A College Campus

Last Friday in the Loyolan I wrote a guest piece arguing against the establishment of a special section of LMU's student government with the sole responsibility of promoting diversity through "diversity training" and "education." The article that ran can be found here. The article speaks well enough to my position on the issue- what perhaps is more interesting is the long road the article took to publication. To do that, we need to rewind all the way back to February 7.

This piece ran with a brief mention of me addressing the Student Body Senate. The speech (the full text can be found here) was one of only two opposing voices to the amendment that was being considered. My speech was blunt, to the point and spared no one. I did not realize it at the time, but sitting next to me for the duration of my speech was the Editor In Chief of the Loyolan. As I was leaving she indicated that she would be in touch with me. She was as good as her word and requested via email that I provide her with a hard copy of my speech. I agreed, provided that she would tell me ahead of time what quotes she was planning on using (it would have been very easy to take selections of my speech out of context). She agreed, shared with me what she was using and I found the article she wrote to be very fair. I thought that was the end of it.

I found out later, after I had left the Senate meeting, a prominent member of the organization on campus trying to pass the legislation had called me a "racist and bigot." Hurtful, but not a huge deal- I frankly could care less what people think about me, which is perhaps why I had little or no hesitation in addressing the Senate in the first place. It is worth mentioning, however, because an opportunity presented itself later that week. The Editor of the Loyolan offered me the chance to write an opinion piece about the diversity issue. Having just been labeled a racist, I jumped at the chance to defend myself.

I spent a lot of time on the article, blending humor and points about the absurdity of requiring "Diversity training" for student body members. I submitted my article to her, which clocked in at about 1,100 words and said exactly what I wanted to say. (The full text of the first draft can be found here)

Figuring my work was done I sat back and relaxed- the article had taken the better part of three hours to polish off. However, late that evening I received an email from the Editor. In the email she told me that she and her Opinion Editor had decided that parts of my article were offensive and that they would not run it. Instead she attached a "revision" and I use that word loosely, because what the two of them had done was cut out about 500 words (just about half) of my article. (You can see how they wanted the article to run here) I was not pleased.

As I said in my response to her, "If your opinion editor has a specific issue with some of my facts or some of the claims I'm making, please let me know. But if you want to just flat out cut things that "might" piss people off- I'm not going to attach my name to it." And I was true to my word, that version did not run.

However, I did compromise. For better or for worse I went back to my article and cut out some of the things they found most offensive. In hindsight, I regret this. Some of my more biting commentary should have stayed in. I particularly regret letting go of my comments directed at the leaders of the local diversity group on campus. They should have been called out by someone for their shameless plug of Stephen Murphy's campaign. Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time it seemed like a reasonable course of action. Of course, I still wanted to defend myself to their blanket assessment of my article as "offensive" so in the course of my re-edit, I dropped little comments pointing out the absurdity of their edits. (You can read the re-edit, complete with my comments, here)

To their credit, the two Editors realized that there are not too many people who are willing to say the things that I was saying and agreed with me that the compromise was a fair edit. My article ran on time. Next to mine ran an opposing piece supporting the diversity initiative. A few things I noted at the time in an email to the Editor: in the opposing piece the author "label[ed] me "ignorant" "less informed" and a white supremacist among other fun and nice adjectives. I'm not really upset- I figured people would be calling me names, just not with your stamp of approval. I addressed the issue at hand, he simply used fancy words to label me a bigot." (His article can be read here- although be forewarned I still haven't figured out what he is talking about)

I found this wholly ironic, seeing as how my article was blanketedly labeled "racist" and "offensive" and not once did I start name-calling.

So it seems my journey should be over. A few weeks have passed and I'm still ruminating over whether or not I will try to write for the Loyolan again. This past Wednesday I happened to glance at the Loyolan to see if I had garnered any hatemail (I have not... yet) However, what I did see was something so pitch perfect to conclude this chronicle, I am still reeling from the irony. Thanks for reading.

Taken from the "Board Editorial, the voice of the Loyolan":

"Using the First Amendment as our guide, the Loyolan will not censor articles based on our personal beliefs and ideologies. After all, if we censored ideas simply because we thought they might anger, or possibly offend, we would not be giving all opinions an equal opportunity to be expressed.

It is not the job of the Loyolan to shelter its readers from views that might be considered offensive or controversial. Writers are given the freedom to speak their opinions, and readers are given the opportunity to form their own opinions, having been presented with an unambiguous, unfiltered and uncensored publication."