As the former editor of the opinions section for the previous three semesters, I would like to respond to the controversy regarding Erin Jenson’s recent article The Admissions Office Doesn’t Care About Your Values and explain why I think The Daily Gazette (DG) was right to publish the article. I view the opinions section as a voice for the members of the Swarthmore community. The DG is not trying to publish pieces on the level of The New York Times or The Atlantic, but rather it is trying to give a platform for students and groups to speak their minds. Those voices will say very different things (including things we may find truly abhorrent as a community), but the DG’s role is not to censor or discriminate in which opinions are published and which are not.
I don’t know Erin personally, but it seems to me that she very deliberately takes an antagonistic tone at times that undermines rather than helps her argument. I understand how many in the community were offended by her comments about students on financial aid in particular. However, I do not think offensiveness should be a litmus test for denying publication of an article. It is important to know that Erin’s views are held by at least one (and I suspect more than one) member of the community, and I have seen a number of thoughtful critiques of her argument. In this way, the publication of the piece has done a service to the community, as I believe it is better for these issues to be discussed in the open rather than fester in private.
Thus, I strongly disagree with the decision of the Editorial Board to essentially denounce Erin’s piece. I have worked with Eduard, Brandon, Patrick, and the rest of the EdBoard, and I think very highly of all of them as people and as editors. But the irony of the title “We fucked up” is that the DG fucked up precisely in backtracking on the article, in what appears to be a decision driven in part by negative public opinion towards the piece and the DG.
The views expressed in the piece are Erin’s and hers alone, and she – not the DG – must bear ethical responsibility for them. I found her argument to be incoherent and factually lacking and her follow ups on Facebook to be entirely insufficient, and this is perhaps the best grounds on which the DG can apologize. I would have liked to edit it more thoroughly in order to clarify and substantiate the main points before publication, but this does not warrant a retraction once the piece has been published. While the piece may not be up to the paper’s standards, the way in which the DG threw Erin under the bus by claiming a piece that they signed off on exhibits “self-satisfied and insidious classism,” seems quite unprofessional to me (even if it may be true).
While there has been some constructive criticism on social media, the vast majority of comments have been incredibly cruel. Denunciation on social media and in the comments section is a fear that every opinions author has, and I worry that it will discourage people from dissenting from the status quo of Swarthmore’s politics (a status quo from which I also dissent vehemently, although in a very different way than Erin does).
On a more human level, writing a piece is a very personal undertaking, and despite strongly disagreeing with the sentiment and logic of her piece, I can’t help but feel sympathy for Erin in light of the ad hominem attacks she has received. Even if she was not particularly kind in the article, two wrongs do not make a right, and some of the attacks on her appearance, family, and personality are undoubtedly wrong.
In the meantime, I hope that Erin, the DG, and the Swarthmore community can take a step back to learn, reflect, and improve from what has been a terrible situation for everyone involved so such an event can be averted in the future.
Featured image courtesy of The Daily Gazette.