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Opinion: Beginning a conversation through outrage, is it worth it?

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Opinion: Beginning a conversation through outrage, is it worth it?

A response to "Op-Ed: We Don't Know How to Have Fun Anymore"

Thomas Sanders

11.16.17

On Thursday, Nov. 16, the College of Charleston’s official student-run publication, CisternYard News ran an op-ed article written by Natalie Bao Tram Le, an alumna of The College and a current graduate student at Harvard University. The article stirred unrest among the College of Charleston community as it went locally viral, making the rounds of social media. The article is titled “Op-Ed: We Don’t Know How to Have Fun Anymore.”

The article itself comes to publication amidst a college community that very recently witnessed the forcible sexual assault of a girl in her own dorm room, a horribly racially insensitive Halloween costume, as well as the College president’s lack of condemnation for the confederate flag, long a symbol of white supremacy and the history of segregation at The College itself, throughout campus by a third party all in less than three weeks’ time. Needless to say, The College of Charleston has become a powder-keg of social tensions.

It is true the conversations surrounding these three instances on campus are beginning to fade with little action from The College of Charleston itself. The aforementioned article published by CisternYard, if published anywhere else, would likely come across as another instance of the insensitive conservative messaging often heard echoing throughout classrooms and whispered by administrative offices at our predominantly white institution of learning. The article references the false offensiveness of cultural Halloween costumes. The costume example Le gives in her op-ed is a “rice paddy worker.” Le claims the idea of a rice paddy worker shouldn't offend anyone as it is a mere costume and meant to be simply humorous and creative. This reasoning, thrown alongside a token cultural costume, is not something that hasn’t drawn criticism before.

In context however, this comment comes in the wake of a white College of Charleston student’s choice to dress up as Freddie Gray, a police brutality martyr, for Halloween. Any individual tapped into news about The College likely heard about the incident in one way or another, be it from Glenn McConnell’s email to all student accounts or from massive uproar on social media. Any students currently at The College would most likely associate racially or culturally insensitive Halloween costumes with this year’s Freddie Gray costuming incident.

The article additionally comes to the defense of Robin Thicke’s popular song, “Blurred Lines,” released in 2013. The song is widely regarded as a promotion of rape culture and lyrically insensitive to survivors of sexual assault. Le writes that “the song is meant to be fun and harmless.” According to Le, the song is only violent and vulgar because of how people have interpreted it to be. The article places LGBTQ+ artist Mary Lambert as her defense for the song. The citation states the Lambert enjoys the song despite social backlash of it.

Le uses Lambert as a token LGBTQ+ person in support of her argument. There is not one line of text in the article supporting the lack of rape culture within the song but instead a speaker that is meant to speak for the majority of the LGBTQ+ community. Simply, the argument presents the classic, slippery slope argument of if this activist isn’t offended, why should others be?

Perhaps, we should indeed be offended. ”Blurred Lines” is a song that lyrically supports drug use as well as sexual assumptions. The chorus of the song repeats “I know you want it” multiple times, a phrase that is often uttered in defense of sexual assaults. The title itself alludes to a blurred line mentality of “yes versus no.” The song that was perhaps meant to be fun and harmless, regardless of intention, is undoubtedly a song that supports a culture of blurred sexual consent.

At the mention of anything related to sexual assault culture, the students of The College of Charleston cannot help but to turn their minds to the jarringly recent incident of on-campus assault that happened on Oct. 27. Although Le does not explicitly state that the use of the term sexual assault has become used too liberally, it is certainly what comes to mind when Le comes to the defense of a song that so famously supports rape-culture.

Le graduated from The College of Charleston in 2016, leaving her most likely still knowledgeable and connected to the tragic actions that have occurred this semester at The College. Her article does not explicitly acknowledge any of these newsworthy and ubiquitously discussed issues on campus.. Giving Le the benefit of the doubt, we may say that her thoughts never drifted towards either of these issues. With that thought in mind, the article is, at best, a grossly unthoughtful piece written by an aspiring, yet ironically ill-researched, journalist.

Further, it is important to note that the article itself is an op-ed piece published by CisternYard News, wholly funded by the student activities fees covered in every student’s tuition. Most mistakenly take op-ed to mean “opinion-editorial, yet it actually means “opposite-editorial.” This being the case, that means that this piece, although published by CisternYard News, does not reflect the beliefs of the staff, but only of the author. This begs the question: why publish it, especially when the writer is no longer a student?

Given the nature of CisternYard’s usual publishing trends, it is rare that they would publish such a starkly conservative piece. They have published in the past semester opinion pieces on the gender studies program (a traditionally liberal study), a criticism of the promotion of fake news, and the anxieties of walking home alone as a woman all in the past month.

CisternYard has done well to start conversations on campus in the past about the injustices that occur every day at The College of Charleston. It is the job of CisternYard News to be aware of what happens around Campus and to use the money contributed by all students to inform the campus on important and local issues. This would certainly include both the Freddie Gray incident and the latest sexual assault.

Had this piece been written by a current staff member of CisternYard, the publication would have an obligation to publish it as it is a public news source at the College of Charleston and cannot stifle conservative views it does not agree with. However, the piece is authored by an alum which would give CisternYard no obligation to publish it regardless of its viewpoint. The publication’s editors made a conscious choice to publish this knowing full-well the level of outrage it would cause among an already rattled, underrepresented, and seldom heard student body.

While it is likely that CisternYard News aimed to spark conversation over recent issues using this article as a centerpiece, outrage from current students and alumni alike over the apparent deafness to College of Charleston affairs in the article only served to betray the trust of many readers who felt the views written discredited their legitimate concerns about diversity and safety on campus.

An event that generates enough outrage among the campus community has in recent history garnered an email from President Glenn McConnell to the student body addressing it. An event influential enough to call upon an email from McConnell is usually large enough to warrant a change by the Student Government Association, or at least an attempt at one. It is through the outrage that this article would generate, that CisternYard seeks to revitalize a fading dialogue on these issues that plague our campus.

Ultimately and unfortunately, this article supports the oppressive majority at The College of Charleston while seeking to dismantle the experiences and arguments of the ones being stereotyped, profiled, and assaulted on our embattled campus. The fight to remove these injustices, microaggressions, and racist divides from our college community is already an uphill battle, and moments like this make that climb even harder. This article simply provides reassurance to a negligent college government, a broken party scene, and a whole series more of horrible actions by insensitive members of the College of Charleston’s community.