Rebuttal: Defense in the Face of Disapproval

My esteemed colleague Scotch asserts, we at The Review truly have only one credo: free speech above all else. This doctrine is, of course, why we are even running this piece; that, and to show that even within the supposedly monolithic organization there can still be hot lines of contention surrounding our most central beliefs. Our debate on the Night of Solidarity, was without a doubt, focused on this and this alone: if one individual’s free speech imposes upon another’s, does this speech cease to be free speech and become censorship. It is likely tempting for many of you to take my colleague’s more emotional points and see The Review as a cobbled cohort of scared fraternity brothers desperately clinging to their male-dominated social spaces; this would be a mistake. It is likely even tempting for some of you to see The Review as an organization that flagrantly denies the horrific reality of sexual assault on this campus; this would also be a mistake.

Image courtesy of Dartmouth College

Image courtesy of Dartmouth College

For the sake of argument, I will address the second account first. The Review both confirms and is unequivocally appalled by the existence of sexual assault on Dartmouth’s campus. Furthermore, no one in The Review condemns the intentions of the four individuals who conceived and organized the Night of Solidarity. As a part of our recognition of sexual assault as a real problem on this campus, we also recognize that it is a multifaceted problem. Everything from the rise of violence-oriented pornography to objectification of women in mainstream media to college hookup culture to, yes, Dartmouth’s fraternity culture play a role in fueling the epidemic of sexual assault. Productive discussion of the complex issue is necessary to combat it. Unfortunately the Night of Solidarity did not facilitate this discussion, but rather stifled it.

The fact that the Night of Solidarity was ineffective is not a point of contention within The Review. My college Scotch would likely be the first the agree with me that forced discussion is often the most shallow. It is in Scotch’s assertion that the organizers of the Night of Solidarity were operating within the bounds of free speech that our opinions differ. Free speech, in its very nature is only limited by the condition that it must not infringe upon the free speech of others. Free Speech is thus not merely the freedom to physically open ones mouth and utter words. This is very easily explained when extrapolated to the extreme, so that is what I will do: There are Christians currently living in North Korea who when asked each morning who their lord is reply, “My Lord is Jesus Christ.” They have the physical freedom to utter those words, but because of their assertions they are held in brutal prison camps. It is very easy to arrive at a consensus that these individuals do not have free speech. The consequences of their speech are too grave for it to be truly free.

When the Night of Solidarity movement was launched, the free speech of many of the individual social spaces on campus was infringed upon. As a note, and I am tempted to publish this in capital letters: I’m not equating the plight of the religiously persecuted in North Korea to the problems of fraternity brothers here at Dartmouth. Not in the slightest. Not at all. The example of persecuted Christians is merely a tool to discern the true nature of free speech. Free speech is only free is it comes without the threat of disproportionate retaliation. Now of course no significant physical violence would have come to a Dartmouth fraternity who decided, for any number of reasons, not to participate in the Night of Solidarity. However, that fraternity as an organization and their brothers as individuals would have faced massive social backlash across campus. Anyone who denies this fact is simply foolish, something that my college Scotch most certainly is not.

My colleague argues, however, that if the fraternities had banded together and presented a united front against the Night of Solidarity, then they would not have had to participate. Yet, the very fact that the fraternities would need to form this kind of coalition to protect their own right to opt out is proof that this event is obsessive and suppressing their free speech rights.

So to my friend, and those of you who agreed with her points, I will say this: The Review is not a collection of terrified fraternity brothers. We are as we ever were, men and women who believe passionately in and intend to defend free speech.