Discourse / Letters / January 31, 2018

Letter to the Editor: Risk of death for Knox’s liberal arts education

When I first saw the headline last term in The Knox Student that the production of “The Good Person of Szechwan” would not make its opening night, I was surprised but not worried, knowing that logistical issues can and will occur in any production and that it would eventually see the light of day. But when I found out the real reason behind its cancellation and subsequent suppression, I was floored. Why would a small group of “liberally-minded” theatre students try to prevent a play from being realized on stage? I was also shocked at the complete disregard for the time and effort students and faculty put into the play as they squashed it seemingly overnight with no remorse.

After some time had passed, I naively thought this would be over, that it was just an anomaly. As a proponent of the arts as a marketplace of ideas, I believed that art on campus would not be threatened in the future. But I was sorely wrong. With this second cancellation, it is quite evident that censorship is alive and well here at Knox and there is an underlying problem.

As far as the overarching issue students had with the play, the director and production manager “learned that most of the cast, as well as two production members, felt the script did not appropriately handle its subject matter . . .” Given the current trend of play cancellations and sans the inclusion of what they would consider “appropriate handling” of the subject matter, I am beginning to believe that the only way to “appropriately” handle the subject matter is to not talk about the subject matter at all.

Now, this problem is not endemic to Knox. These past few years have been plagued with, for example, speakers being banned from colleges across the country. But the fact that it is so widespread is no excuse.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Everyone has the right to take issue with these plays if they are offended.” And I agree. However, we must allow others to make their own decisions about a particular topic. Even if large amounts of people are offended, this does not justify censorship. On the opening night of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in 1913, the audience was so offended that there were physical altercations. Should future performances of “The Rite of Spring” have been banned? Having the right to be offended does not mean you have the right to censor what you find offensive.

The most disturbing part of this whole debacle is the fact that the college seems to be complacent in this censorship movement. Higher education is designed to be a place where different ideas are presented and students’ own beliefs are challenged (see: University of Chicago’s “Statement on Principles of Free Expression”). Knox is not only a college, but it is, most importantly, a liberal arts college. This means that students are exposed to as many different ideas and ways of thinking as possible. How can this be achieved when ideas are actively being suppressed? This should not be something Knox finds tolerable.

It is crucial to any person’s intellectual growth to come to conclusions/opinions about something on his or her own, but no one can form a proper opinion on these plays since a select few students have apparently made their opinions for them. And isn’t intellectual growth the reason many of us are here in the first place?

The cancellations of “The Good Person of Szechwan” and “Fix Me, Jesus” are only symptoms of a larger, underlying disease of authoritarian thought on campus that needs to be addressed. It not only makes the lives of artists harder than they ought to be, but it is also not something we should find desirable in the least. However, we should not rely on the college or faculty to right this wrong. We students who value freedom of expression must stand up against this prevalent authoritarian censorship. It not only threatens the values of the college itself, but also, if left unchecked for much longer, will certainly stifle the liberal pursuit of knowledge.


Senior Joey Sinclair

TKS Staff

Tags:  fix me jesus good person of szechwan liberal arts theatre

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1 Comment

Feb 18, 2018

Joey, cites a 1913 play in Paris to make a solid point about the right to be offensive. But we need to recall that in 1913 Black people in the US were not even allowed to sit in a theater. Even worse, they were routinely the subjects of the another sort of theater–public lynchings. Black men burned alive. Black men dismembered,
Black men hung from trees while huge crowds of white men, women and children looked on.

According to Joey, liberal arts “means that students are exposed to as many different ideas and ways of thinking as possible.” That’s a concise and accurate explanation of a *theory* of liberal arts. But the reality is that “liberal arts” has mostly meant being exposed to the thinking of white men, the majority of whom were racist. That thinking was not seriously challenged until Black college and highschool students all over the US rose up aginst the white male monopoly on knowledge production at majority white college campuses in the late 1960s.

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