The recent issue of The Student Life describes a recent controversy over Walker Wall, the so-called free speech wall of Pomona's campus. (Sarah Higley, "Message on Walker Wall Targets Dean of Students," September 26, 2008)
Again, the title of this Student Life piece is misleading. No one was "targeted" but rather criticized. I quote the opening paragraph,
"On the weekend before classes started, unknown persons wrote "F--- Feldblum" repeatedly over Walker Wall. Campus Security painted over the words because they targeted a specific individual."Ms. Higley continues by mentioning the 1996 campus "task force" which "examined issues about messages on Walker Wall." She mentions that the task force "endorsed the continued use of the Wall as a free public forum while calling on the students themselves to take the lion's share of responsibility for maintaining its integrity."
. . .
"'It was hurtful,' she said, but added that her main concern was that there was student discontent that she had not heard about."
Perhaps Ms. Higley forgot to mention the infamous "Nuke the Monsters" wall writing after the attack on our country, seven years ago. I am referring, of course, to the Claremont Independent's editorial, "Un-American Violations of Free Speech" from its October/November issue. Allow me to quote it in its entirety so that you might see the hypocrisy of Pomona College's speech policy. I have bolded the relevant sections.
In an argument between people favoring an aggressive and long-term war on terrorism ("hawks"), and those favoring no retaliation in order to return to peace ("doves"), which side seems more likely to try to suppress the views of the other?Ms. Higley forgets that other students were actually targeted. She either did not know that story -- itself troubling -- or kept it out.
While we at the CI believe the dove sentiments at this college -- whether expressed through quotations from pacifists or by stating that the "wrongs" that America has done to the third world justify these attacks -- are wrong, both pragmatically and ethnically, we honor the rights of those expressing these sentiments. Ironically, it is those who preach peace through tolerance who do not respect the rights of hawks to free speech.
One CI staff member, a Pomona student, tired of the dovish sentiments on Walker Wall, purchased a few cans of spray paint and decided to make her viewpoints known. Under a quote from Mohandas Gandhi that read, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world behind," she wrote, "Justice is blind." On another section of the wall, she wrote the simple word "Justice," something that all people, not just conservatives, should want. In addition, after a large section of the wall that has been taken up with the statement, "The Collage is for peace, she wrote the politically incorrect statement, "Nuke the monsters."
All of this banter would have passed unnoticed by us had a dove not decided that our staff member's feelings needed their authorship to be made public -- something that contradicts the unsigned free speech traditions of Walker Wall. Next to the statement, "Nuke the monsters," the dove wrote, "What do you think?" followed by our staff member's Pomona College email address. Next to the single word "Justice" was an arrow prompting others to send their comments to the same address.
While the other responded to the hawkish comments were reasonable (the word "justice" in "Justice is blind" was crossed out, and the word "HATRED" was written in its stead; next to the single word "Justice" were the words "OR VENGANCE [sic]"), writing our staff member's email address--not once but twice--and encouraging others to send mail to her is simply unacceptable. If someone wants his statement on Waler Wall to be quasi-anonymous, that should be his prerogative. If someone wants to claim authorship of his own statements, that too should be his prerogative. To list someone else's email next to her comment without permission, though, violates the American tradition of anonymous free speech that an open-minded college community should allow and encourage.
When our staff member approached a suspect to ask her whether she knew anything about the email addresses written on the wall, she admitted that she had done the deed because she felt our staff member should be "held accountable for her views." No doubt this dove had visions of our staff member's inbox being flooded by comments denouncing her as an intolerant enemy of peace who has no place at a college as open-minded as Pomona. Fortunately, no such email messages were received. Perhaps this example is a testament to the tolerance of the majority of Pomona students.
Following the incident, the CI staff member and some of her friends blacked the email addresses out with spray paint. She then informed her faculty advisor of the situation. In a statement that is all too familiar to conservatives in America's elite colleges today, the faculty advisor told her that she should be more sensitive to the feelings of others when expressing her views.
While the Claremont Independent believes sensitivity is a good thing, the ways in which a person expresses his or her view -- whether conservative or liberal -- shouldn't be dependent on the feelings of others. American free speech is a rough and tumble business, and sometimes we might be offended by what others have to say. That is when we respond with our own free speech. Violating the anonymity of another in hopes of holding her "accountable," though, is little more than attempting to suppress what she has to say. This type of behavior is not only indecent, it's un-American.