The flip side of The Flip Side

Renee Rosenow

The following commentary is based on a panel discussion that I attended regarding the First Amendment and The Flip Side at Davies Center on Nov. 12. I was in attendance from 5 p.m. until roughly 6:50 p.m. The main focus of this panel discussion was the article written by sophomore Jake Everett, titled “Sexual Depravity.”

The Director of Development at the Flip Side told the panel and the audience the paper offers students another perspective, one not available to readers of the other campus paper, The Spectator. Such an ideal has merit, but The Flip Side’s current leadership has lost sight of their mission.

The notion that The Flip Side is doing the campus community a service by offering Everett’s story as an alternative perspective on “how to treat women” is absolutely absurd. There are many ways to interact with women, but all must include respect and kindness. To give voice to those who think that women are objects to be consumed and tossed out or who should be sexually abused while unconscious is beyond acceptability.

A paper that offers this as its “alternative” viewpoint clearly lacks the intellectual fortitude and courage to ask the real questions; questions that actually show the reader a balanced perspective. A real flip side to this topic might include questions like: How should we respond to the media’s enduring objectification of women? What are some cultural differences regarding the treatment of women? How do we find ways to embrace different cultural ideas about the treatment of women, while at the same time upholding civil and human rights?

An intellectual discussion based on an exchange of ideas such as these can serve as a catalyst for further conversations about important topics, such as how men and women interact. A carefully thought-out and articulated conversation of this sort encourages a multitude of voices to join in. Make no mistake! For all but a few brave souls, The Flip Side’s brand of hate speech serves only to eliminate and/or hinder conversation, not to stimulate it in a meaningful way.

In the panel discussion, The Flip Side used the First Amendment as a shield for the paper’s actions, but the staff at The Flip Side have not recognized the intent of the law as it has been clearly interpreted by the courts today. The First Amendment does not supersede the rights of people to feel safe and protected as they move about. The legal precedents for this idea are everywhere, yet none of the constitutional interpreters at The Flip Side seem to have considered this. The courts have ruled repeatedly that the First Amendment’s protections do not act like a blanket covering all forms of speech.

Putting aside the legal questions, The Flip Side has at the very least abdicated its ethical responsibility as member of this campus community. We all must work to promote scholarship, critical thinking, reflection, and pluralism. In addition, the campus must come together with the community to help break the cycle of fear, hatred and violence on campus.

UW-Eau Claire’s rhetoric on this matter must match our actions. Despite the blurb on the inside cover of The Flip Side affirming the opinions expressed within are not necessarily their own, they are a reflection of both the publication and the university as a whole. When The Flip Side publishes stories like “Sexual Depravity,” it moves the campus away from its own stated
objectives.

Conversations about how to make Eau Claire more pluralistic should be open to a wide range of opinions, and this is where The Flip Side could serve a very valuable function to the university. But instead it drops the ball for all of us and denies its readers the opportunity to grow.

Critical race theorists remind us race and gender disparities continue to be integral parts of American society. As a result, peoples’ powers to assert their rights under the law – either to add their views to the public debate or to demand protection from others whose expressed views infringe on their way of life – vary in accordance with their status in society.

Consequently, defenders of unfettered free speech under the First Amendment commit a fundamental error in assuming that all people have equal protection under our laws and can equally use their rights under that Amendment.

Together we must ask The Flip Side to require more editorial oversight. Not so that it limits or impedes the free thinking or creativity of its authors, but that it, at the very least, protects fellow students from undue hardship and discomfort. If we don’t act in some way, it is just a matter of time before we will see intellectually offensive and lurid stories about child abusers, hate crimes and murders.

I am not suggesting that these topics should never be broached in print, but I feel the editors must be able to balance the artistic, scientific, or educational value of such a piece with the potential to harm fellow students.

Admittedly, there are grey zones with regard to the protections offered by the First Amendment, but The Flip Side goes so far into enemy territory when it publishes and then defends stories like “Sexual Depravity.” In addition, stories of merit written by talented authors must seek other publications to have their ideas shared because any affiliation with The Flip Side might bring into question that person’s stance on civil and human rights, and rightly so.

We need the people at the helm of The Flip Side to be reasonable, and until we insist on that, we risk tarnishing Eau Claire’s educational integrity and our name as an institution that welcomes diversity. We also risk sacrificing the very thing that The Flip Side proposes to do for us, to give voice to the voiceless.

deKoven is an assistant professor for the Foundations of Education and guest columnist for The Spectator.