Unpopular opinions spur student dialogue

by Anthony Berteaux, Senior Staff Columnist

As opinion writers for this fine paper, receiving enraged accusatory comments is a weekly norm. There is a constant flow of livid messages and dispersed public outrage throughout social media platforms. We are called “racist,” “offensive” and “sexist,” as well as “inept” “ignorant” and “stupid.” I can’t count on one hand, or even two, the number of times I’ve been called these names.

As a result, the emotional toll as an opinion writer is immense. There’s always an imminent fear the hostility present online will surface in on campus from peer to peer. In fact, it’s a fear that has become a reality for writers from time to time. I’ve personally lost a few friends to this hostility. It goes without being said, but the career of an opinion writer can be a hard one.

This dialogue entails the acknowledgment that unpopular stances are perhaps even more important than popularly agreeable ones. In a world condemning anyone seeking to defy the status quo, taking a controversial and unpopular stance risks reputation and popularity in the public eye. When op-eds argue unpopular debates, it demands readers to think outside of their personal bubble and question where their beliefs stand. These columns are intended to provoke and perhaps change the public discourse on important topics. A populace that lives too comfortably in thinking with the majority is an ignorant one.

So why do we do what we do? Why would we write opinion pieces taking unpopular stances? Why do we willingly make ourselves targets for malicious comments and attitudes? At what expense do we allow ourselves to be publicly defamed by spectators who don’t know us? It’s a question I think we’ve all asked ourselves when the backlash becomes too much to handle.

It’s because we need dialogue on this campus.

There should be a central truth surrounding the conversations present on this campus. As writers, a common goal is to argue with reason more than emotion. It has become less about presenting opinions, but more so about flipping perspectives of how students rationally and reasonably think about controversial issues. This is crucial in fostering true and authentic intellectual dialogue on campus.

The late journalist Christopher Hitchens, who was well-known throughout his life as one who took controversial stances, once said “The essence of the independent mind lies in not what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”

It’s a quote that haunts every word I type. This is the truth surrounding the dialogue in which fuels us.

Backlash following unpopular arguments is crucial in fostering our dialogue. It goes hand in hand with readers disagreeing and being outraged at printed words. The more varied responses a story gets, the more evident something struck a chord. We tackle difficult topics and mercilessly argue against the opposition, therefore, expecting no lenience in return.

However, when detractors demand the removal of an article because it disagrees with personal moral views, or dismiss an article as “bad” because it strays from the majority, bigger issues arise. These are the critics who vastly misunderstand the very purpose of an opinion section.

Such demands to remove articles or dismiss opposing opinions suggest a childish opposition to the basic rights we are granted in this country. The first amendment acts to protect our freedom of speech. In doing so, it allows for an environment that fosters the exchange of ideas, no matter the level of offense. Individuals are allowed to hold opinions without persecution.

We have a responsibility to uphold these rights and practice them in their proper context. It’s our civic duty to listen to opposing views in a country that practices freedom of speech as much as it is to voice them. However, to condemn an opinion as invalid because it doesn’t align with personal beliefs, furthermore demanding its removal once published, violates the very spirit of freedom of speech and individual thought celebrated in this country.

The censorship of opinions not only denies the individual the right to understand various arguments, but such a statement denies other people’s right to listen and develop their own individual thought. To deny a dialogue is to hold yourself and other’s prisoner to a narrow worldview. Such childish demands to take down an article because of ideological reasons are three steps backward into a world of censorship, silence and ignorant stupidity.

We write because we fight for the right to have individual thought. We believe in intellectual dialogue, reason and rational thinking. We argue topics that are controversial, such as racism, sexual assault and mental illness, because these are issues that we believe matter. We take difficult stances because we know that the downfall of our freedom occurs when the status quo goes unquestioned — and we will never stop questioning.

These are a few of the many reasons why writing for this section is sacred to me. At the point in which it’s released, these articles become a part of a beast that is much larger than any of us — that’s a tremendously powerful thing. Our thoughts become part of the large fabric of conversation and debate that is the very spirit of being part of this educational institution. It may not be apparent now, but by reading this, you’re part of a bigger dialogue, and it’s all of our responsibilities to continue it.