September 16, 2010

Letter From The Editor: On Censorship, Constructive Conversation, and Respect

I took the second half of the anonymous posts down for now because things were getting a bit out of hand. All comments are put in queue for my approval before they go up, and what I saw was not good and kind of really very nasty. I understand if Readers think, "what was there wasn't so bad," but as editor I get to see into the future a bit (because of that queue) and things were about to get hateful (and I mean, personally, I thought the thread was already getting hateful). And that is not something that the blog is about.

So I put the conversation (*"conversation") on pause for a bit so that I could talk to the BDU officers and general body about what to do. And I also wanted to talk to all of Y'all, too. Sometimes it's ok to step back and take a second? I feel like that's fair, right?

This isn't about social fascism or quelling people who don't agree with me or us as an organization - it's about discerning between criticism that's respectful and criticism that's hateful.

From all sides.

I hate censorship, as do the BDU officers. In this case, it would be antithetical, as "rpb" pointed out two nights ago, to our mission of "effectively conveying the diversity within the LGBTQ Community" and "capturing Duke accurately while neither coddling nor depressing." Why bother running the blog in the first place if we don't allow contributors to be completely honest about their experiences?

At the same time, we wanted to learn from the mistakes of our predecessor site, which kind of turned into, so we specified that "hate speech and personal attacks" would not be tolerated.

Reconciling these values of total honesty and safe-space is difficult. But not impossible.

There is a way to convey the sentiment or experience of any Reader on campus (or off) respectfully. We can disagree, and I hope we disagree. Let's disagree! But as my mom's told me as far back as I can remember, "we can disagree without being disagreeable."

One of the most important things, I think, is to never discount somebody else's personal experience or reality. More specifically, it's not fair to say that "Duke has been a great place for all LGBT students and it's not a problem here" or "Duke is not an LGBT-friendly campus at all, and I wouldn't go there because how bad it is." Because both ignore the range of experiences of students here. There is no one LGBT experience at Duke, and there is certainly no one way to navigate life at Duke as an LGBT student.

And so long as someone's happy, and it works for them, then they should do it. That's totally legitimate. If that means never coming to the Center, if that means never speaking to another gay person on campus, then ok! No one should ever pressure them to do these things. One part of #7's post that I totally agreed with was his frustration that people kept insisting he get involved with all of our programming and meet all these other gays and such. That's not what anyone should be doing. The goal of "active" LGBT students and groups on campus is to offer options, not "omgyouHAVEtocometothisbecauseyou'regayand,like,we'regaytoo." If "gay" is not a major identifier for someone and subsequently informs zero of their decisions, it does not make them a "bad gay," "not cool," etc. because duh, it does not make them a "bad gay," "not cool," etc.

But the other half of this is allowing people who frequent (or even infrequent) the Center or BDU meetings or events planned by either, to do that, too. I mean, it's kinda fun for some? Personally, it's a place where a lot of my friends hang out and I know a lot of peers (including myself!) have felt the need to use the resources that are offered. I think why a lot of students like the Center and BDU is well documented in the hundred or so columns and comments on the blog, so I'm not going to go into that further.

Like we've said before, personal attacks are not tolerated on the blog. But I don't think I honored that the other night, and I was a jerk in one of the comments. I'm truly sorry for that, because it was not an okay thing not only as editor, but as a participant on the blog. Like I said in a later comment,

... I naively thought that I could just take my Editor Hat off, which is just not possible. I am a leader here on the site, and it's irresponsible for me to comment that way. I reacted, and got defensive when I read the words "disgusting," "incestuous," and "fake" used to describe people that I consider my family (and this includes me, too, I guess). Instead, I should have been more articulate in explaining why I did not think this was okay ... I'm truly truly sorry to #7 and any other commenter that I may have offended because they expressed distaste for the Center and those who frequent it. I won't speak like this again, I promise. And thanks to "rpb" for calling me out - I appreciate it.

I repeated this at the BDU meeting, and I wish I could adjust it to say that it wasn't ok just because I'm Editor, but because I am Anybody.

This is not the forum for personal attacks, because that's CollegeACB stuff and I think we all agree how we feel about CollegeACB (right? We're all on the same page on that?). And personal attacks, for the record, are not restricted to comments about just one person (i.e. "Chris Perry is just The Awfulest") but include character assassination of groups of people, too (i.e. "Everyone who doesn't regularly go to the Center is The Awfulest"). Blanket statements like the latter are not productive, are hurtful, and are usually prejudiced (and, for the record, do not have the necessary sociological data to back them up). They aren't conducive to the constructive conversation and cathartic environment that we're looking to foster here.

So I urge anonymous posters and columnists alike to keep their entries personal-experience based: "I was really looking forward to going to the Center and then nobody introduced themselves to me. It seems pretty cliquey to me." "Somebody told me recently that they took solace in all the flags that around campus, knowing that there was a support network for them at Duke." Let's keep things specific (and remember, LGBTQA-based).

As Readers and Commenters we can much more effectively get to the root of things and talk about them if entries are framed this way. If you've got a concern to share that could lead to a respectful, productive conversation, advice or encouragement, please do. Like, as queer advocates, we'd love to discuss the merit/detraction of showering the campus with rainbow flags. There is a discussion to be had here! But no side should label another with derogatory terms.

In fact, let's not use derogatory terms. I can't really think of an instance on this site where they'd be appropriate.

While I'm hoping this sets the tone for the blog, we decided at the meeting last night that the best thing to do is to set up a committee for reviewing comments and posts. I shouldn't be the only one making these decisions, and the members of this group will be diverse in their involvement with the Center, BDU, etc. If you're interested in more information, email

Anyhow. The blog'll go back to its regular format in a day or so, and there'll be details on what we're doing with the post that we had to take down.

Thanks for reading and contributing for the past 10 months. Y'all make this site My Favorite Thing.

Much much love,
Chris Perry