Being too afraid to speak up

I’ve been afraid to speak up; to speak up about anything controversial or worthy of debate.

For the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of being an editor for the Williams Record. For half my tenure, I was Opinions Editor. I took pride in being the editor of the opinions of the campus. I thought this was the ultimate venue to make my opinions known to the Williams community. It should have been. Unfortunately, for reasons I’m going to explain, I’ve been too afraid to speak up. This op-ed is not just about me, however; I know all too well that there are others out there who are too afraid or too apathetic to let their opinion be heard.

Maybe I learned my lesson to keep my mouth shut during the Mad Cow episode last spring. In the days immediately following College Council’s decision to de-recognize the Mad Cow, student list servers were filling in-boxes to the brim with arguments over free speech and sensitivity for minority groups. I decided after reading several of these emails that I should respond. I thought, “as an officer of a MinCo group and an editor of the Record, I had a unique position that should be heard.” I went on the say that I thought that many minorities on campus were being too sensitive to the satire in the humor magazine. Some replied, agreeing with my messages. Others were stunned that I would put my back to the minority community. I really didn’t know what to do when I realized that many people were angry at me. So I did what I could do?I shut my mouth.

But this wasn’t the first time people had gotten angry at me for what I had said or written. Earlier last spring, I wrote two op-ed pieces in the Record that were seen by many as being strongly anti-athlete. I hoped neither piece would be taken as a personal attack against anyone, but I fear they were. I never minded the person who would come up to me and say, “Hey, we should talk about what you said in the Record.” Or even those who just said, “I disagree with what you said.” In fact, I was extremely pleased when such an interaction took place. It meant I was using the newspaper as a conduit to promote dialogue between people. That, I believe, is a noble goal. However, one instance did disturb me. On one cold evening at around 3 a.m., I was leaving a friend’s dorm to go back home when a bunch of drunken students were outside. Drunken Williams students are something I’m well acquainted with, but it became a little different when one of them yelled out, “He’s with the newspaper!” and started pelting me with snowballs. I just walked away; there was no reason to do anything. Some good did come from the incident: a few guys, fellow teammates of the two or three who pelted me with snowballs, talked to me on the way back to Greylock to make sure I was all right.

I thought the incident wasn’t much. To some degree, I expected it to happen. But what I didn’t realize until now was that I never really talked about the debate on athletics after that incident. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t like the idea of people being angry at me for what I said.

What I’ve been able to collect from many students on campus is that a lot of people here have some really good ideas or some rather strong opinions, but are too afraid to speak up. Maybe, like myself, they didn’t want to get others angry at them. Or maybe it’s because since no one else is speaking up, it would be uncouth or anomalous to make noise.

Or maybe what I believe is the strongest reason why students lack the strength to speak up, is somehow culture or society (or however you wish to describe the overriding contemporary Zeitgeist), promotes people to not take a stand and speak up. Today, it has been communicated in some manner that members of society should just “flow” with everyone; rocking the boat is seen as overly zealous. Yes, one should have some tact when engaging others, but, I feel, one should be able to engage in strong dialogue with others either at a personal or large social level. Somehow, making sure that you’re “in” has become more important than standing up for what you believe in, and I am just as guilty.

The attitude I describe above coupled with the complaints from others, to become were persuasive enough for me to stop speaking up for what I believed was right. I don’t have anyone else to blame but myself. I’m not writing this as repentance for some sin, but as words of advice for others who occasionally think of speaking up but don’t.

Just a few months shy of graduation, I’m left with knowing that Williams has been the best opportunity for me to speak up. I know there will be no future venue where there is such a concentration of intelligent people who (supposedly) appreciate debate. Please take advantage of this opportunity. Even if people get angry at you, as others have been at me, that’s temporary. We shouldn’t be content with the smugness that seems to describe college students all too well today.