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Why liberal Wesleyan students are boycotting the school newspaper

Students at the Middletown, Conn., college circulated a petition demanding that the school cease funding The Wesleyan Argus newspaper.

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The Wesleyan Argus student newspaper is displayed Thursday, on the campus of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. The student government for the liberal arts school is weighing a petition to strip The Argus of funding after some objected to an opinion piece it published on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Michael Melia/AP

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Wesleyan University is a prestigious campus known for its progressive culture. So it is surprising to many that the school is now embroiled in a contentious censorship battle as some students demand that the century-old newspaper be shut down.

The story began two weeks ago, when an opinion piece questioning the Black Lives Matter movement was published in The Wesleyan Argus. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

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I talked to a Black Lives Matter supporter, Michael Smith ’18, who recoiled when I told him I was wondering if the movement was legitimate. This is not questioning their claims of racism among the police, or in society itself. Rather, is the movement itself actually achieving anything positive? Does it have the potential for positive change?

Students who objected created a petition now being weighed by the student government, which states that The Argus has failed historically to be inclusive of minorities' voices and demands that copies of the paper on campus be recycled. The petitioners also want diversity training for all student publications, and argue that funding should be withheld until their requirements are met.

The Wesleyan Student Assembly discussed the petition on Sunday, culminating with Kate Cullen, president of the assembly, saying in a prepared statement that it would host another forum on the petition this weekend.

But Executive Editor Gabe Rosenberg told the Associated Press that the paper is looking into arranging outside financing. 

He said the newspaper is committed to improving its diversity issue but he disagrees with opponents' tactics.

"I totally agree the newspaper is not a perfect place. We just cannot support their methods," Mr. Rosenberg said.

University President Michael Roth agrees. In a statement titled "Black lives matter and so does free speech," he and two other administrators condemned what they described as harassment of the author and of newspaper editors.

“Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable. As members of a university community, we always have the right to respond with our own opinions, but there is no right not to be offended,” said the statement.

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The topic of “ ‘free and unfettered’ speech is increasingly coming up against a new generation of students, some of whom have an expectation that they have a right not to read or hear ideas that differ from their worldview or make them uncomfortable,” The Christian Science Monitor previously reported. “What began in the 1990s as political correctness – a desire not to offend others – has now morphed into what one academic observer calls 'empathetic correctness' – a desire never to be offended.” 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.