A Call to Improve the Conversation

Ian White ’19, Contributing Writer

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When I was in middle school, I started taking an interest in current events and politics. Every night, my parents and I would sit in front of the family TV and watch The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, and on Friday nights, we would tune into Washington Week with Gwen Ifill afterwards. These were of immense value to me as they helped me to see the context of the wider world and my place in it. However, if I am being honest, I always looked forward the most to a new daily paper, and when it came, I immediately flipped to the back of the front section: op-eds. 

I did appreciate the other sections: without them, it is difficult to understand what is happening in the world. However, I looked forward particularly to reading each day’s opinion articles because of the new perspectives they brought. In reading them, I not only learned about the world around me but imagined how it could be different, how it could be better. I did not always like 100 percent of the opinion page’s contents, but I usually found at least one column that was illuminating or fresh, that introduced a new policy idea or sparked a curiosity. These pieces usually came from authors who were well-informed in the topic they were writing about, who had done extensive research before opening their laptops and typing out their articles.

I must admit that the contents of The Dickinsonian’s opinion section have disappointed me recently, and I do not think I am alone. Just to state where I am coming from, I am not talking about the “White Boys” article. I actually thought Leda was addressing a much-needed subject, and I thought that the backlash proved the need for the article. No, I am talking about the plethora of opinion pieces, published two or three at a time in every edition of the paper, which seem to be either poorly researched or made in bad faith. 

Articles which state unequivocally that racism does not exist anymore, despite mountains of evidence from multiple academic disciplines to the contrary. Articles which cannot accurately state the services that Planned Parenthood offers, or at least which ones are government funded. Articles which opine on Venezuela and socialism without demonstrating intricate knowledge of either. These articles can contain ignorance, show a lack of self-reflection, and actually make people on this campus feel unwelcome at their own college. As a result, I have heard some say that we should get rid of the opinion section. I think, however, that there is better way we could address the situation.

We live in a vibrant educational community: there are people at Dickinson from around the world, with knowledge of dozens of distinct academic disciplines. There are professors at this college achieving truly remarkable things through research and creative endeavors. Even among students in the same major, most have their own unique experiences and knowledge to share. 

Imagine if, instead of its current line-up, the opinion section contained pieces from humanities majors about literature, science majors about environmental policy and climate change, or students in the arts reflecting on works they have studied in class. Imagine if an opinion article which mentioned Martin Luther King Jr. came from someone who had actually studied the civil rights movement. If the opinion section looked like this, it could have informative power, and it would contribute to this campus in a positive way. I believe that one small change could bring this situation about.

Writing in the Discipline (WID) courses are mandatory in every major on this campus. You cannot graduate without one. Furthermore, most people taking a WID course have completed more than just introductory classes in their field, so they have some knowledge to share. Currently, most WID courses have a focus on academic writing, but few emphasize other styles as well.

“A Useful Education for the Common Good” is a commonly advertised slogan of the college. While there is value in academic writing, it is usually written for scholars, not a general audience. Thus, it requires some translation to reach the public and serve the common good. In addition to the lengthy papers that we write in our WID classes, I believe we should also be required to write one opinion-style piece, related to our major, eligible to be published in the school paper. Such an assignment would not increase the workload of a WID course by very much, and it would cause a proliferation in quality opinion articles from which The Dickinsonian could choose. 

Instead of shutting the opinion page down, we could enrich it by tapping into the knowledge, experience, and passions of our campus community.

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