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Dispute over Black Lives Matter at Heart of Boycott of Wesleyan Newspaper

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — At Wesleyan University, known for its liberal culture, a campaign to shut down the campus newspaper is coming from an unlikely source: its students.

The student government for the liberal arts school is weighing a petition to strip The Wesleyan Argus of funding after some students objected to an opinion piece it published on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Executive Editor Gabe Rosenberg, who has been salvaging discarded batches of the latest edition from campus recycling bins, said the paper is looking into arranging outside financing. He said the newspaper is committed to doing a better job of representing diversity but he disagrees with opponents’ tactics.

“I totally agree the newspaper is not a perfect place. We just cannot support their methods,” Rosenberg said.

The university president, Michael Roth, has weighed in on the side of the press. In a statement titled “Black lives matter and so does free speech,” he and two other administrators objected to what they described as harassment of the newspaper’s editors and said the campus should not “demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable.”

Frank LoMonte, director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, said battles with student newspapers are more typically led by members of school administrations or Greek organizations, but the Wesleyan case follows a trend on American campuses toward protecting people from things they find offensive.

“It is worrisome when you see students wanting to silence disagreeable opinions,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like you can punish people into being more open-minded.”

The student opinion piece that ran last week questioned whether the Black Lives Matter movement is achieving anything positive.

The petition argues that The Argus has failed historically to be inclusive of minorities’ voices and lists demands including diversity training for all student publications, disposal of copies of The Argus on campus and withholding of funding until they are met.

The Wesleyan Student Assembly discussed the petition on Sunday. The assembly’s president, Kate Cullen, said in a prepared statement that it promotes respectful discourse and is hosting another forum on the petition this weekend to discuss next steps and promote community through greater inclusion.

If The Argus does lose funding, LoMonte said, it would have little recourse outside the court of public opinion because, as part of a private institution, it is not protected by the First Amendment.

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