Appreciating the Value of Open Conversation

Appreciating the Value of Open Conversation

A privilege that comes with a position on the Editorial Board of the Old Gold & Black is the opportunity to meet with and question President Hatch roughly once a month. President Hatch is a great sport in these engagements, and while we work to keep the meetings lighthearted, inevitably some difficult questions are asked. Though I may not always agree with what the president says, he always seems to respond to our board with a commendable degree of candor and tact. 

In our first meeting of the semester, President Hatch told us that a theme this academic year, especially for the class of 2021, has been “rethinking community.” Our little community has certainly faced what seems to be an unusually high number of challenges this semester — from a campus shooting and a racist video recording at the beginning, to complaints about perceived failures of the bias reporting system that resulted in a student being interviewed on Fox News in the middle, to a blog post-turned-mass email that told students that they were “not safe here” and the unexpected death of a first-year student in her dorm room. Surely, many students have rethought our community these past few months, albeit probably not in a manner which the administration had imagined or hoped for.    

In our most recent meeting with President Hatch, which occurred this past Monday, my colleague, Sports Editor Lizzie Snyder, asked if there is going to be a different theme this coming year, broadly for the campus and specifically for the incoming class of 2022. President Hatch gave a very interesting and timely response to this question. According to him, next year’s theme will be a “call to conversation.” More specifically, he would like to see our campus become more of a “model of conversation in a world that is so deeply polarized.”

When President Hatch made this declaration, I was extremely pleased. The vision he has laid out for our school, one where students’ opinions can be comfortably voiced in a time where it seems there is little public consensus and deep political cleavages, is one that I share.

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Generally speaking, I would refer to myself as a free speech absolutist. Though I can think of a few very minor caveats, I am always liable to support the unmitigated dispersion of ideas and open conversation, no matter if those ideas are obviously vile, vulgar or stupid. This love of expression is the reason that I sought the position of Opinion Editor. I cherish the fact that we live in a time and a place where the free exchange of ideas is possible. I think we can attribute much of our nation’s success and continued improvement to the First Amendment, which codifies and protects free speech, an unalienable right. Perhaps the ultimate responsibility of the Opinion Editor at the OGB is to propagate open, diverse conversations. Therefore, it is a position tailored to my guiding principles, and one that I am proud to hold.

President Hatch argued that a key reason he is making free speech central to the coming school year is because we are living in an “age of distrust and polemic.” Certainly, this section has seen its share of crass vitriol this semester that feeds into this narrative, from conservatives writing about oversensitivity and racial bias, liberals writing about the poor journalistic practices of a conservative campus publication and everything in between.

This past semester, even I have penned some articles that, upon reflection, I still fundamentally agree with, but wish were written in a manner less condescending and dismissive of my ideological adversaries. However, despite the occasional virulence of my peers and me, I think that this past semester, the OGB’s opinion section has served as a case study into the value of open dialogue and a blueprint for President Hatch’s vision. As our campus has been shaken by adversity, students have taken pen to paper in order to openly grapple with harsh, difficult realities, and sometimes even with one another. This intellectual back and forth is not only valuable, but in fact necessary if Wake Forest is to consider itself an institution of higher learning committed to free-wheeling conversation and the unfettered dispersion of ideas. 

I applaud our authors, readers and even our nastiest online commenters for engaging with the OGB’s opinion section this past semester. As always, this coming semester I will remain committed to publishing articles on a first come, first serve basis, regardless of my personal opinions, because at the end of the day, my job is not to ideologically tailor the section, but to procure a diverse range of campus opinions. I am extremely proud of the work my colleagues and I have done these past few months, and I am looking forward to working with the rest of the staff to put together a similarly diverse and captivating section in the fall.


Ethan Bahar

Opinion Editor

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