In light of the recent backlash of a column by Alex Knepper in the March 29 issue of The Eagle, titled “Dealing with AU’s anti-sex brigade,” I find it important to open the discussion regarding The Eagle’s choice to continue publishing his columns, despite the controversy they may create.
Many have said that it is difficult to understand why we would devote column inches to Knepper’s writing. Some have called it hateful; others deem it embarrassing (and a slew of other negative descriptions). I want to call to mind the fact that the nature of a column is to call in outside viewpoints. The beliefs of The Eagle’s columnists do not necessarily reflect that of our staff or editorial board.
By publishing this piece, we were not trying to display our tacit support of Knepper’s views. However, as journalists, we are not in the business of censorship. As an editor, I would not feel right to fire or censor a writer who has offended people, because I believe that he has raised questions that warrant discussion. I cannot say whether or not the editorial staff would, as a whole, agree or disagree with the claims and statements that he has made in this or any other column. However, I must stand by the fact that our mission, as the campus newspaper, is to create a dialogue. Though the comments section of our Web site can often devolve into some mindless discussion, the amount of op/ed pieces and letters to the editor that were written — some within hours of this column’s publication — contain intelligent and thoughtful reactions to what Knepper wrote. It is this kind of reaction that will facilitate a potentially positive dialogue.
If every person were to read only what he or she agrees with, how would the dialogue on either side progress? This is why we have a political system. This is why the ideas of free speech and free press exist in the first place. Dissent begets change and progress. Censorship would do nothing but hinder these things.
This is why I was so upset to find thousands of Monday’s issue of The Eagle pulled from their stacks and strewn and piled in front of our office door. This does nothing to further the conversation. Instead, this is a reactionary and destructive way of dealing with something that could potentially merit discussion.
It is in a case like this where, as the campus newspaper, it is our job to redirect and facilitate the discussion into something that could be productive. The Eagle will be hosting an open forum on Thursday at 7 p.m., in an attempt to give both sides the opportunity to see the others’ points. Maybe we can come to a conclusion, or at least have people have a better understanding than they did before.
So, I ask all of you who are feeling upset, enraged, appalled — and a host of other adjectives — to please, send me your remarks by way of a letter to the editor or op/ed piece. Or, if you fall on the other side of the coin and find yourself agreeing with Knepper, do the same. Come to Thursday’s forum. Make this into something constructive — beyond personal attacks and acts of vandalism.
Editor in Chief
To say that we did not anticipate serious, angry and emotional responses to Alex Knepper’s most recent column would be disingenuous. Of course we did. Knepper, like usual, wrote a controversial and provocative column staking out a position clearly contrary to many people’s views on this campus.
When discussing whether to publish the column the debate hinged on two key points — is there an established, clear argument being made and, will this spark constructive dialogue? Together we decided that the answer to both questions was “yes.”
The concept of date rape, gray rape and consent are of vital importance on a college campus where women and men are in new and confusing sexual situations. In almost all cases, the definition is not clear between sexual partners. Knepper’s column, no matter how heinously insensitive it may seem to many, has opened this dialogue and will — we fervently wish — result in clearer definitions for the AU community.
Just as it would be disingenuous for this paper to say we are surprised by the response, we believe it is disingenuous for critics to say this column has not served a constructive purpose. Two opposing camps of opinion — and yes, there are other supporters of Knepper’s opinions — have discussed and debated this subject more over this past day than they have in the last year. This especially should be welcome in a university setting.
Our job here is to report the news as well as we possibly can and also use our newspaper to explore important questions. Knepper, in his own way, has helped publicize and clarify the definitions of date rape.
As for the vandalism of our newspapers after publication — I think the reaction speaks for itself. It was not constructive but destructive to conversation. If you believe that Knepper’s column is so morally reprehensible, then allowing his words to represent his reprehensibility would have been the best, and most effective, tactic.
As editor in chief-elect of this newspaper it will be my job to determine how this newspaper moves forward next year. My desire is to continue stirring the pot and creating dialogue. To censor controversial opinions because we are afraid of reactions similar to this would be cowardly. We chose to be editors at this newspaper partly because we believe in the power of words to make the world a better place. Deciding not to publish viewpoints many deem offensive would be counterproductive to this goal. Part of believing in the power of words is believing in the innate intelligence of people. We believed in the students of American University and thought they would read this column and respond to it intelligently.
I’m not yet ready to give up on my belief in words, debate and people.
Managing Editor for News and Editor in Chief-Elect