To The Watertower:,
I’m writing to share an interesting story with you about a piece of your paper that led to some interesting discussion.
A police officer knocked on my door this morning regarding something I had posted on my door. It was a comic strip of yours (the one in which a girl is talking to her grandmother, who leads her to conclude that because women give blowjobs, men should hold doors for them) which had been posted when it was published (sometime in the fall). The officer asked me to remove it, explaining to me that she personally had no issue, but that the UVM police get a lot of calls about things like that and it’s a pain to have to come all the way to the building to ask people to take it down. Since she was there on other business, she decided she’d stop to ask that I take it down right there and save her the trouble. I would have argued but I really wasn’t sure about the rules around such things, so I took it down.
Later today I approached to Brian Hooks, Residence Director of Trinity Campus (where I live) and explained the situation, hoping to get more clarity on the issue. He was extremely helpful and courteous. As most of us know, the hallways are considered “public space” and are therefore under the watchful eye of ResLife. You can’t post porn on your door same as you can’t put up Hitler posters in the lobby of Harris-Millis.
My main question in the whole issue was how something that The Watertower deemed appropriate to publish and put out in public spaces around UVM could possibly be disallowed in a University residence hall. Apparently, ResLife does not allow The Watertower to be distributed within residence halls for this very reason. They do not want to be responsible for material that could be deemed offensive to anyone. Since The Cynic has to be University-approved before it’s distributed, they’re able to distribute in the dorms.
I understand that UVM housing is a touchy issue, as it needs to be a place where people feel safe and accepted. I agree that these things are vital to the residence community, but I also think that it’s vital that these people are accepted for who they choose to be, not faceless, politically correct, machines. Sure, I’m offended by some of the things I see and hear in my hall (you’d have to be strange not to), but I’d rather stop someone and try to explain my point of view and then request that they stop rather than blindly silence them. As a straight, white, male of average height and weight, it’s obviously very hard for me to speak for any of the groups more marginalized by society. In my opinion, though, every inch of a University should be dedicated to the spread of knowledge through discussion, debate, and print.
While neither the officer involved (who was also very nice and professional) or Mr. Hooks forms this policy, I was disappointed at the small swipe at free expression at UVM. I understand not being allowed to say derogatory things about women on our whiteboards or throwing around racist slurs in the halls (which happens much more than anything offensive is posted on a door), but posting something that was deemed by The Watertower as publishable and – in my opinion – serves exactly the social purpose that a comic strip is supposed to serve, seems like it should be allowed. Cartoons are very often satire of the flaws of society and they call to the surface important issues that must be well-understood if this generation is to go on and do what the university hopes we will do: make change.
Class of 2012
Update: The Watertower got my letter and asked me to write an article on the issue for them. PDF is available here.