I am writing this to commend the staff at The Jambar for excellence in their journalistic integrity and endeavors regarding the “Straight Pride” posters hung on campus last week. As an elected representative of Youngstown State University students, the events that recently transpired have taught me a lot. They have taught me a lot about people and the passions they hold for issues near and dear to their hearts. They have taught me a lot about politics and the necessity of forethought and diplomacy, especially when put in front of a camera or microphone. Most germane to this letter, they have taught me a lot about the media, about its immense power to construct compelling narratives reliant upon piecemeal quilts of information and isolated quotes taken out of full context. This is not to say that every media outlet or writer I encountered misrepresented the facts, intentionally or otherwise. However, it seems that many outlets did, and that trend of recycling uncorroborated hearsay is, regardless of intent, a consequential one. The Jambar, unlike some of the most prestigious papers across the country, avoided such notable pitfalls. The Jambar followed up. The Jambar put everything into relevant context. The Jambar did its homework. I will return to this thought momentarily.
I firmly believe that appreciation for (not just acceptance of) diversity is one of the most important attitudes a human being can possess. I am not black. I am not gay. I am not a female. I am a white, heterosexual man. I cannot claim to fully understand the struggles of marginalized groups, nor can I say with absolute certainty what degree of marginalization any one person belonging to those groups has faced. The lives of individuals, much like the meanings and consequences of actions, are context sensitive. I am proud of my context — I am proud to be English, Russian, German, Scottish, Welsh and more. I am proud of the life events, both good and bad, that I have experienced. I am proud of my upbringing, my socialization, my history. These things have made me who I am. No single factor constitutes my being. Rather, in combination, they form a composite, a composite that is a person who is learning and growing and changing every single day. Everyone else can say the same. We all possess various upbringings, belief structures, goals and aspirations. We all have a story to tell. Thus, I maintain that the posters hung last week missed the mark. They were more than satirical — they were shortsighted, insensitive and brash. I alluded to as much in the statement SGA released last Tuesday, a statement I authored. I stand by my conclusions. That being said, speech and expression that is shortsighted, insensitive and brash is, nonetheless, protected by the United States Constitution. This is so for reasons crucial to liberty and democracy.
In this country, we value discourse. Nothing is more important than the marketplace of ideas. As notable philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote in his seminal work “On Liberty,” “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” Debate is fundamental to education, enlightenment and improvement. Such debate can only be preserved when we allow all voices to be heard, even the ones with which we disagree. This is why the United States allows Neo-Nazis (National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977)), the Ku Klux Klan and other similarly malicious groups to assemble and express their viewpoints. This is why American citizens are allowed to burn the American flag (Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)). This is why, in this country and on its college campuses, students maintain a robust set of rights, including those both enumerated and implied by the First Amendment. As a student, as an American citizen and as a human being, I value the paramount importance of free speech and expression. I may not agree with your opinion. I do, however, understand that you have every right to express it. Youngstown State University understands the same.
In the article “Flier Removal Did Not Violate the First Amendment,” Liam Bouquet and Graig Graziosi of The Jambar brought everything back full circle. In comment threads on a litany of newspaper websites, I was called a “fascist,” a “communist” and worse. If the individuals who made such comments are able to read the aforementioned article, their tones might change. When both Student Government and YSU Administration were made aware of the fliers, no explicit administrative order was given, nor any administrative action carried out. Instead, students who saw the fliers and were offended sought advice, and university officials offered it. Just as state regulation of free speech is scrutinized by the relevant courts, independent actions by YSU students (such as those who took down the fliers in question) are regulated by university policies. SGA, after consultation with Student Affairs, discovered that no express policy guaranteed permanent placement of fliers on student bulletin boards. As YSU VP of Student Affairs Jack Fahey explained in The Jambar’s article, such is analogous to the painting of the rock on campus — as a YSU student, you can use the rock as a means of expression and speech. However, there is no guarantee that another student won’t paint over the rock with their own expression and speech.
At the end of the day, this situation should serve as a teaching moment for all involved, including me. Appreciation for diversity is important. Respect for the rights of individuals to speak and express themselves is important. Mindfulness when speaking with the media is important. Finally, for the media, following up, doing the necessary homework and putting things in full context is important. Thankfully, our student newspaper did just that. For that, I offer my deepest gratitude and appreciation for Liam, Graig and the rest of the staff at The Jambar. With all of this in mind, I plan to move forward, taking with me both the beliefs I hold and the lessons I have learned.
Student Government Vice-President