According to my revision history on Google docs, I’ve written and rewritten this column twelve times. At this point, hitting command + A followed by the delete key is deeply embedded in my muscle memory, and sometimes my fingers nervously twitch in those exact strokes. If I were in a TV show, the camera would show a wastebasket full of crumpled-up papers, then it would follow a trail of more crumpled papers until my desk space appeared in the frame, peppered with (you guessed it) even more crumpled up papers. I would be sitting at the desk with my head in my hands, my hair just messy enough to show that I had been working all day, but neat enough that I’d still reel in sufficient Nielsen ratings.
I’ve been obnoxiously referring to this as my “inaugural column” to my friends, who, in turn, immediately stop talking to me. I’m insufferable, but my anxieties are understandably valid: The first column sets the tone for my future writing, doesn’t it? I have to introduce myself, my opinions on discourse and my writing, and I have to do it damn well or else risk someone named “Big Red Mama Bear ’88” putting me on blast in The Sun’s online comments.
I keep getting distracted. Most recently, I’ve been distracted by The University of Chicago’s letter to their incoming freshman class. In the letter, the university explains that their commitment to free speech means there will be no cancelled speakers or “trigger warnings” on their campus. In the so-called era of political correctness on college campuses, UChicago wants their students to know that they won’t succumb.
The intellectual foundation of letter, much like its choice of Calibri as the font, is fundamentally lazy. The dismissal of platitudes like “safe space” and “trigger warning” is easy, and doing so serves only to pander to the growing sect of contrarian neo-enlightenment thought without tackling these ideas at their core. The University blindly dismisses contemporary, non-universal rules for university discourse in an effort to patronize students at Less Enlightened Universities who are, in UChicago’s eyes, complete intellectual weenies.
This is not intended to be an indictment on the contention that some of the new rules for academic conversations are harmful, or that they can be considered censorship. I see the merits of those arguments, and — for now — I agree with many of them; there is, all in all, a valid debate to be had. But the harm in UChicago’s statement isn’t just that it makes lazy arguments against these new rules of discussion, but that it has predetermined those rules for its students.
Is it not hypocritical to denounce the suppression of free speech while simultaneously suppressing what could have been a free debate on campus dialogue? Is the UChicago student body composed of rowdy children who need guidance in how to think and interact? Are they not capable of deciding their own rules of discussion? Why is it necessary for the university administration to constrict how individuals communicate with one another? What on earth does this have to do with my anxieties regarding my first column?
This whole UChicago fiasco showed me precisely how I want to frame my own writing, how I want to draft my rules for discourse. The UChicago letter has taught me that, paradoxically, good writing comes from listening. Argumentative deafness doesn’t just make for bad writing, it’s also fundamentally dangerous. It is — as in UChicago’s case — often based on vanity or stubbornness, and it is often counterproductive.
All in all, I want my column, and all the rest of my writing, to be a space for listening. I want to listen to you, to others, to our decisions and our feelings. I hope we can listen to one another.
Pegah Moradi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester.