Student newspaper column about ‘white boys’ makes waves at Pennsylvania college
Leda Fisher wanted to start a conversation.
The Dickinson College senior, however, didn’t anticipate that would involve professors including it in lectures in class or that it would go viral online, with national organizations posting it to their websites.
“I certainly did not expect my article to go viral,” Fisher said in an email. “I had hoped it could spur conversation on campus, but even that professors would discuss it in class seemed far-fetched to me. When people tell me that they are having conversations with their friends and classes because of the article, it shows me how much the campus needed my perspective to be highlighted.”
Last week, the college’s student newspaper, the Dickinsonian, published Fisher’s guest editorial, “Should white boys still be allowed to talk?,” in which she argued white, male students are taking over discussions of feminism, LGBTQ and race that she feels are better voiced by women and minority students. Noting that February is Black History Month, she wrote that “white boys” shouldn’t share their opinions and should instead listen to those whose perspectives are being ignored or buried.
The opinion piece caused a firestorm in the Dickinson community, including parents of white students. Posting on the Dickinsonian’s website, parents argued the piece was racist against whites and demanded action from the college.
College President Margee Ensign sent an email to the Dickinson community last week saying that the college had heard from many people regarding the opinion piece. Ensign said the Dickinsonian staff has editorial control over its content, but that the college values inclusivity and thoughtful dialogue, adding that “no group or individual should be silenced.”
“Let me be clear,” Ensign wrote in the email. “Dickinson believes in free speech. We also condemn stereotyping and prejudice.”
Dickinsonian co-editors-in-chief Rachael Franchini and Jules Struck said in a joint statement that the “piece reflects the author’s personal experience” and that the student paper “neither agrees nor disagrees with it, or with any of our editorial columnists.”
Since last week, the opinion piece has gained more traction, with conservative websites and Yahoo picking up the story. Fox News this week ran a story called “Have American universities become breeding grounds for anti-white hate?”
With the column going viral on a national scale, some parents have voiced concerns over the safety of white students on campus. Fisher’s mother also posted a response on the Dickinsonian’s website with a litany of unprintable comments on the anonymous posting website, 4chan, about her daughter after the column went viral.
“While I have received hateful direct messages, there have been no physical threats,” Fisher said. “I think we sometimes reduce what safety means for POC (persons of color) and women. It does not just mean preparing for individual acts of violence, it means ensuring that the environment where you live everyday isn’t hostile to your existence. That more abstract sense of safety is harder to provide.”
With this discussion happening only a week after Ku Klux Klan flyers were distributed in Carlisle, the college said the safety of its students is paramount.
“Dickinson College and the Carlisle Police Department are in frequent communications and work as partners to ensure the safety of the campus and local community,” the college said in a statement Wednesday.
“We talk with our students about effective ways to ensure their personal safety on and off campus. Based on a number of recent events — including the disturbing leafletting in the Carlisle community — we have added additional patrols on campus.”
Some parents argue the response from the college is not enough, with one person starting a Change.org petition to expel Fisher, which had more than 730 signatures as of 12:30 p.m. Thursday. Others posted comments about Fisher being labeled a “goodwill ambassador” on her profile on Dickinson’s website, though the term is not an official status at the college, rather a headline for the profile itself, referencing Fisher’s desire to have met actress Audrey Hepburn when she was a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.
The college Wednesday said Dickinson is like the country at large with its ongoing discussions of race and beliefs.
“Dickinson is a microcosm of the nation,” the college said. “Our campus community is composed of individuals who hold varied beliefs, opinions and life experiences. We engage in the hard work every day that is necessary to become a more inclusive community. This work is ongoing.”
Dickinson in late 2017 had to deal with community outrage when a Halloween photo surfaced of a student in apparent blackface dressed as Colin Kaepernick with another student pointing a toy gun at him. The Dickinsonian published an apology letter from the student, though the student argued it hadn’t been blackface and the toy gun was “jokingly” pointed at others in the room.
Fisher on Thursday said there isn’t anything she regrets about the column she wrote.
“I don’t regret how I wrote the article or the tone I took,” she said. “If anything, backlash to how angry or dismissive I seem just reveals how limited the range of acceptable emotion for a black woman is.
“I don’t want my voice to drown out other students’ reactions,” she said. “I want their voices to be heard just as much as mine.”
In its email last week, Dickinson said it would provide opportunities for constructive conversations to “respond to the divisions we are experiencing on our campus and in society.” One of those included an open forum that was moderated by George Stroud, vice president for Student Life and dean of students, in which students expressed concerns over safety and lack of safe spaces for minority students, the Dickinsonian reported from the event.
Others are planning similar discussions, specifically in the wake of the flyers earlier this month. A Rally for Hope Against Hate is organized by Dickinson Law, YWCA Carlisle and local congregations, and will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday on the steps of the Old Courthouse on the Square in Carlisle.