MATTHEW BOYLE ’19
Wesleyan University’s school paper, The Argus, has recently been embroiled in a controversy.
It began when an article appeared in the opinion section criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. The response was swift and severe. There is now a petition to boycott and defund the Argus.
However, the petition itself only intensified the controversy because it is trying to limit free speech.
In addition, like most newspaper opinion pieces, the rest of the newspaper’s staff does not necessarily share the opinion of the writer.
The author of the piece is a sophomore named Brian Stascavage. He is an Iraq War veteran and self-described as a moderate conservative. It is unclear why this article in particular has caused such a stir in the Wesleyan community. It is not the first time that this author has written us. He wrote an article called “The Problem with ‘Privilege’” in which he took issue with how white privilege is portrayed. He has also written articles on very controversial topics such as the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, wherein he took positions that an organization like “Black Lives Matter” might disagree with. It appears that this time he mentioned and criticized Black Lives Matter specifically, leading to criticism of the article’s more conservative take on the movement.
The article itself could not necessarily be described as a diatribe against Black Lives Matter or civil rights activists in general. It points to examples of violence, or encouragements of violence, that appear to be related to BLM. Stascavage alluded to recent murders of police officers, the riots in Baltimore and the infamous “pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon” chant that celebrated the death of a police officer as examples of these “calls to violence.” It is unlikely that the petitioners at Wesleyan support these practices either.
The article was not perfect from a journalistic standpoint, however. It was an opinion piece, so it did not need to meet the criteria for objectivity of a news piece. The author’s bias seemed to favor the police’s version of the events over members of the community or those who disagree with the police. In the article Stascavage states that he will not support the movement if “the vilification and denigration of the police force continues to be a significant portion of Black Lives Matter.” This would essentially mean that Black Lives Matter would never portray the police as the antagonists. The issue is that there is a strong sentiment, both within and outside of BLM, that police officers should be held more accountable for their uses of force, and failure to do so should be acknowledged in strong terms. BLM and its supporters are likely to vilify someone they perceive as a villain.
Ironically, the petition may very well backfire on its supporters. Stascavage criticizes the movement mainly for its extreme elements that seem to use BLM as an excuse to attack people. Petitioners that want to defund an entire newspaper for an opinion piece they disagree with may very well prove Stascavage’s point. Many argue that the opinion section is supposed to be a venue where every student’s voice can be heard. It is not particularly conducive to an inclusive campus environment to silence a newspaper for running an unpopular or controversial piece. Worse, it further feeds into the false sense of victimization evident in conservative rhetoric such as “the war on Christianity.” Attacking a veteran for writing an opinion piece in which he defends men in uniform is unlikely to win the petitioners, or BLM, any supporters.
A potential result of the controversy at Wesleyan is that both sides come away more entrenched in their positions and less willing to compromise. In fact, Stascavage has written an article since the controversy began in which he expresses with renewed certainty his feeling that BLM is a vehicle for extreme individuals to attack and label those who disagree with them. This article can be found on the website www.thecollegefix.com along with other articles considering issues of political correctness and free speech.