Censorship will not end racism
It seems that self-appointed censors are having a field day on the MIT campus. Objectionable newspapers are dumped in toilets and posters on subjects ranging from abortion to Israeli human rights are destroyed or defaced. When a class council candidate displayed offensive posters, some students asked the Undergraduate Association to join the censorship brigade. Refreshingly, the UA refused to take the easy way out by suppressing the material or striking the candidate from the ballot. Instead, the Election Commission explained that all candidates should have the right to express their views and that the voters should decide which candidate is elected.
There is no doubt that the posters in question were truly offensive. Mark M. Lee, a candidate for freshman publicity officer, demonstrated his job qualifications by creating posters which included purported endorsements from Adolf Hitler and some sort of African native (who, unlike Hitler and two animals, could not speak English). The posters were condemned from all quarters and quickly removed by the candidate.
But some believed this reactive approach was not enough. Jason P. Vickers '90 of the Black Student Union's Political Action Committee complained that "this tired scenario of insult, letter to The Tech and apology has played itself out too many times" ["Campaign poster insulted blacks, trivialized Holocaust," March 9]. He seems to believe that institutions must take more active measures to prevent such posters from being displayed.
It is true that there have been far too many racist displays at MIT, but this is to be expected in the ever-changing community of a university. New students come to MIT every year, and they bring their home-grown ignorance and insensitivities with them. Only education will end the repeated incidents of insensitive and racist behavior on this campus. And one of the best learning experiences is the outcry resulting from offensive displays. Hopefully this poster incident will remove some prejudice and insensitivity from current members of the MIT community. Yet, since MIT continues to admit students from a world plagued by racism, it is inevitable that this "tired scenario" will be repeated for years to come.
The "scenario" should not be halted by banning the offending posters. While it may be nice to think that such speech regulations will only be used against expressions universally thought to be "bad," they could crush out any minority opinions. Copies of The Thistle were dumped in toilets and posters about gay rights, abortion, and Israel were ripped from the walls precisely because they offended people. There certainly is a difference between the Lee's slurs and controversial political expressions. Yet, if the UA takes it upon itself to remove racist posters, others will clamor for similar actions against their foes.
This is not conjecture -- MIT Pro-Life has asked that a pro-choice group be derecognized and its members charged with harassment simply for disagreeing with the anti-abortion forces ["Abusive literature from MEM hides behind pseudo-shield of satire," March 2]. I would not trust any group, let alone the students on the UA, to use any censorship power with restraint. And before students decide that the administration would be an alternative censor, they should remember that it was only four years ago tomorrow that MIT decided to "protect" students by arresting seven demonstrators at an anti-apartheid demonstration.
There would be little benefit to censoring offensive posters. Sure, some people might feel more comfortable when they look at the walls. But debate about controversial subjects would be curtailed, and campus dialogue would become bland and biased. In this atmosphere, students would be afraid to do anything for fear of being sanctioned. More importantly, the attitudes behind ignorant expressions like Lee's would not be changed. Only through public debate can MIT hope to combat the racism that is pervasive in American society.
who Andrew L. Fish '89, a student at Harvard Law School, is a former editor in chief of The Tech.