Over the past eight months, The Flip Side has faced constant criticism for publishing the article “Sexual Depravity,” written by sophomore creative writing major Jake Everett. The latest of these criticisms came in a Nov. 20 Spectator editorial written by professor Aram deKoven, which was a follow-up of an unbalanced forum held in the President’s Room of Davies Center on Nov. 12. After reading deKoven’s editorial, I have to respectfully disagree with his judgments.
In his editorial, deKoven claims The Flip Side’s current leadership has lost sight of our mission, that it isn’t doing the campus community any service by offering an alternative perspective on “how to treat women,” that it lacks the “intellectual fortitude and courage to ask real questions” that show a “balanced perspective,” that its brand of hate speech serves to eliminate and/or hinder conversation instead of stimulating meaningful conversation, that it is using the First Amendment as a shield for “all forms of speech,” and it should be open to a wide range of opinions and could “serve a very valuable function to the university,” but denies the readers the opportunity to grow.
As the managing editor of The Flip Side, I can attest that these statements are false. I could refute every single judgment deKoven made, but that would take up too much space. Instead, I will use this editorial as a way to help everyone move forward.
I would like to state for the record that we have not lost sight of our mission of providing everyone the opportunity to express themselves through an alternative media. We have shown balance in our paper by allowing people to respond to Everett’s article. We have not broken the law. We have stimulated meaningful conversation on campus. We have allowed people to learn and grow from this experience and anyone who disagrees is lying to him or herself.
The main concerns that have been brought up are the allowance of hate speech on campus and the effect “Sexual Depravity” has had on the campus climate. As far as hate speech is concerned, The Flip Side has received unfair treatment and criticism for allowing hate speech. Last year, an editorial was published in The Spectator written by then-student Tom Burton, who criticized Starbucks for supporting a gay pride parade. The editorial was clearly homophobic, but there was no outcry against The Spectator.
Secondly, we have allowed evangelical preachers like Tom Short to come to campus year after year to say demeaning things to women, homosexuals, Muslims, Jews, Pagans and anyone who disagrees with fundamental Christian ideology. But there was never a huge outcry against the administration for allowing this to happen.
But what do these things have in common with Everett’s article? They all stimulated meaningful speech. People have talked about Burton’s editorial, Everett’s article and the preachers’ sermons in classrooms, campus publications, social situations and forums like the one on Nov. 12. As professor Dave Gordon stated, the remedy of hate speech is more speech, not censorship. Hindering people’s right to free speech, though some of it may be hateful, will not do the campus any favors because it will not get people to engage in dialogue.
Then the issue of campus climate comes into play. At the forum, certain panel members claimed that “Sexual Depravity” made them feel threatened. I understand women have to live with the constant fear of the possibility of being sexually assaulted every time they step foot outside of their homes, and joking about something like this is hurtful. But censoring offensive articles in The Flip Side will not solve this problem.
If articles like Everett’s were to be excluded, we would be avoiding the issue of the dangers of sexual predators. By publishing the article, the issue of sexual assault was discussed more and given more awareness than people like to give The Flip Side credit for. Even though it is unfortunate women have to live with this constant fear, it is still good for everyone to be reminded of the possibility something like sexual assault can happen.
However, many women still felt threatened when they became aware someone like Everett was in their community, even though Everett is not a rapist. However, The Flip Side was not the only organization to bring forth this kind of awareness.
On July 24, the UW-Eau Claire Police Department sent out an e-mail to all university students and faculty notifying them of the release of Walter T. Mallett, a level three sex offender. Mallett is an actual sex offender; Everett is just a guy who tells bad jokes.
However, the joke was distasteful and not many people interpreted it as a joke. At the forum, Theresa Schneider, the editor-in-chief of The Spectator, brought up a good point that just because something is a joke, the way it is presented will not always come off that way. After much thinking, I have devised a plan and The Flip Side has adopted a new editorial policy that addresses ethical standards.
Here is my challenge – if you would like to know more about this policy, let me know. I would be more than happy to sit down and talk with anyone about it. Take the time to talk to my colleagues and me instead of writing The Flip Side off like so many have done.
Finally, I would like to address the differing opinions of “campus climate.” Both those who oppose and support The Flip Side view campus climate as one that should be diverse and inclusive. It is also important to note one group’s opinion cannot and should not take precedence over the other without fairly considering both opinions.
Both groups want the same outcome, but have different ideas of exclusiveness and diversity. Censoring unpopular articles and disallowing unpopular views is exclusive, and in order to promote diversity, we must allow these. Still, some people have felt they were censored by “Sexual Depravity.” If people decide they don’t feel like they can talk about pressing issues, then that is their choice, even though that choice may be difficult.
However, if they choose to speak out, The Flip Side is more than happy to share their views in print. Not only that, but some people, including women who are victims of sexual assault, felt that “Sexual Depravity” actually got them to talk about their experiences and thought that printing the article was a good thing.
The Flip Side is not an exclusive publication. We have brought forth free thought and open dialogue, and we are being proactive to help improve the campus climate. Once again, if you would like to discuss this further, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Boden is a junior political science major, managing editor of The Flip Side and guest columnist for The Spectator.