Looking back: Reflections on a semester’s worth of Spectator opinion articles

By Will Kaback ’20 and Lo Sniderman ’19

Tags opinion

At the beginning of the semester, the role of an Opinion Editor was foreign territory for us.The first task in taking on this new position was developing an understanding of what makes an effective opinion piece and how to communicate these standards to the eager writers whose minds are filled with ideas about issues ranging from politics to campus clothing trends. As the semester progressed, however, being an Opinion editor began to take on a new, more profound role as it became obvious that the material published in The Spectator impacts an audience larger than just Hamilton’s campus community. The task at hand demanded a deeper awareness of what makes college journalism effective, and how to foster successful communication and broadcast it to a body of diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

The aftermath of Trump’s election cast a shadow on the Spec’s first few Opinion sections of the semester. In an effort to broadcast a message of hope (rather than despair) to the student body, the section published articles about the sweeping impact of the Women’s March on Washington. Writers discussed the timeless importance of protesting and what peaceful resistance could mean under Trump’s administration. Pieces like these represented our first foray into the nuances of the Opinion section and set the tone for a semester full of articles that would deal with issues relevant to the current political climate.

Classism was one such issue. An article that tackled students’ treatment of “townies,” or Clinton locals, opened a dialogue about the attitudes of those inside the Hill’s bubble of privilege towards the people on the outside who threaten to pop it. Jarring descriptions of dehumanizing interactions between students and locals elicited strong reactions from Hamilton students and professors, as well as from townspeople for whom the article truly hit home. The power dynamic between the privileged and less fortunate took on a new layer when the section published two articles about class discrepancies within the student body, shifting the conversation from a discussion of us versus them to an examination of us versus us.

One article talked about an exclusive enclave within elite institutions’ already-exclusive student bodies—Greek life. Commencing with a critique of Hamilton’s rush process, the article went on to encourage a critical consideration of what Greek life means to those who are involved. Outside of the realm of Greek life, the section published a piece decrying the socioeconomic inequality within Hamilton’s student body. Finally, the section covered the growing trend of e-cigarettes, specifically the Juul, concluding that while the activity is preferable to cigarettes, students should be wary of how seriously they are taking the culture that surrounds the alternative.

There were also a number of critiques of departmental policies at the College. One such article questioned the Hispanic Studies department’s treatment of native Spanish speakers. Citing instances of unequal treatment both on the Hill and during a study abroad program, the writer suggested that the department could benefit from a more welcoming and judgement-free treatment of native-speakers, regardless of any perceived “advantages” they might have. Additionally, one first-year STEM major called into question the Science department’s policy of required, no-credit lab courses, arguing that these expectations demand an excessive amount of work from students while discouraging those interested in trying a science class from doing so. Both writers did a fantastic job of starting a conversation around issues on campus that may not be frequently talked about but nonetheless resonate with many.

By virtue of its name, the Opinion section inspired debate on controversial topics. On two separate occasions, we published a “Face Off” feature that dealt with free speech on campus and the proposed DaysMassolo Center pathway. In the former, two writers squared off on whether or not voices on the left side of the political spectrum were limiting students’ ability to speak their opinions freely. Despite being a remarkably charged topic with a propensity for spilling over into ad-hominem attacks within the national discourse, both writers admirably argued their points with passion and respect. In the latter, the ongoing discussion in Student Assembly over constructing a pathway to the DMC made its way to the Opinion pages, where the relative merits of each side were fleshed out. These pieces helped spur a larger discussion in Student Assembly regarding the organization’s goals for fostering a welcoming and productive environment, which, in turn, has led to the Assembly drafting changes to its constitution and plans of action for next year.

All of the section’s articles this semester shared an overarching theme—civil discourse. With the Trump administration’s actions consuming a considerable amount of our thoughts and causing distress to many, it would have been easy to channel anger or frustration with the state of the country into excessively charged or unconstructive rants and pass off this writing as an opinion piece. Our writers opted for a much better approach. No matter the topic— from Betsy DeVos, to white affinity groups, to reading for fun and beyond—they wrote civilly, intellectually and with focus. It was inspiring to see contentious topics handled with respect and conviction (two qualities some major publications could certainly benefit from.)

In the Opinion pieces published this semester, a point was made to first describe and attack the problem and then offer comprehensive suggestions for how to lay the foundation for a solution. Staying true to the responsibility of Opinion Editors to publish provocative articles that encourage meaningful conversation and enagement with difficult topics, the layout of the section’s pieces was meant to inspire a dialogue within the student body and also between the College community at large and even those off the Hill.

Throughout the semester, it became clear that a good Opinion article does far more than attack. By thoroughly considering the views of both sides of an argument, suggesting meaningful (and realistic) solutions and considering the issues most relevant to campus, it promotes the overarching goal of allowing college journalism to serve as a vehicle for change. At a time when journalism is under attack from many different sides, it was heartening to be part of a publication and section that stressed constructive, stimulating and honest writing. Going forward, we will remain committed to these ideals and look forward to another excellent year of student-led journalism.

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