Opinion Board should remain a space for written conversations

The+Opinion+Board+desperately+needs+to+be+fixed%2C+but+external+discussions+will+not+solve+the+problem.
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Opinion Board should remain a space for written conversations

The Opinion Board desperately needs to be fixed, but external discussions will not solve the problem.

The Opinion Board desperately needs to be fixed, but external discussions will not solve the problem.

Melissa Nie

The Opinion Board desperately needs to be fixed, but external discussions will not solve the problem.

Melissa Nie

Melissa Nie

The Opinion Board desperately needs to be fixed, but external discussions will not solve the problem.

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Consistent with its nature, the Opinion Board has been the source of many controversies over the course of its existence. While these conversations are often taken too far, devolving into personal attacks and tangents, the Opinion Board provides a space for students to express their thoughts and should be accessible to everyone.

Over the past few weeks, there have been rumors that the Opinion Board will be taken down. This is not entirely true — the administration simply hopes to propose a new version of the Board that will lessen some of the emotional pain it has induced.

According to the USC meeting notes from Dec. 11, the proposed changes would make the Opinion Board a place where students can request to have a conversation about a certain topic. If USC approves, then it will schedule a time where students who would like to discuss the topic can meet, following Courageous Conversation guidelines.

“I find out things have been put on the opinion board, not by walking by it, but by having distraught kids in my office,” US Dean of Students Chantal Thornberry said. “It’s hurt the core of their identity and it’s hard for them to opt out. I think having an actual dialogue humanizes the conversation. This helps people who are ready to act, and people who aren’t ready don’t have to interact with those ideas throughout the school day.”

The Opinion Board provides the student body with a valuable resource: opposing opinions.”

— Joey Bluhm

However, this raises a number of issues. For one, students have heavy workloads and may not be able to set aside time for a discussion. Prior commitments such as affinity groups, clubs, senior speeches, music rehearsals etc. limit their ability to contribute to the conversation, even if they want to. This contradicts the point of the Opinion Board as a place where students can talk about issues, unintentionally excluding and silencing those who cannot make it to sessions.

In addition, some students prefer written responses rather than vocalizing their thoughts in a limited period of time. While Harkness discussions are prominent in the curriculum, training students to put their ideas out there, not everyone likes the pressure placed upon them to find an opening in the conversation and to speak out. They may find that they are more eloquent when given the time to write a reply. Furthermore, it is easy for one’s point to be overlooked in a fast-moving discussion, while written responses guarantee that their opinion will be recognized.

Finally, in a school where the majority of the student body voted for Democratic candidates during the mock midterms, conservative students who have been criticized for their opinions on the Board may be even less comfortable expressing them in a discussion.

As USC responded to the proposal in the meeting notes, “Some people, especially some conservative identifying students, won’t be able to feel safe coming out in discussions if it is already scary for people to post stuff on the opinion board.”

Senior Joey Bluhm posted a reply to the rumors on Dec. 13, arguing for the Opinion Board.

“The Opinion Board provides the student body with a valuable resource: opposing opinions. We know that, throughout our adult lives, we will interact with those we disagree with,” Bluhm wrote. “Be coworkers, family, or friends, learning how to interact with these opinions, and continue to be able to cooperate with those who voice them, is a crucial skill.”

By preventing the Opinion Board from being an honest and open discussion space, this aspect of our education is hurt.”

— Joey Bluhm

He goes on to say that learning to deal with and interact with differing opinions is an essential aspect of adult life.

“It’s crucial that students learn how to handle this if they are to succeed in life, where these opposing opinions are common and loud. By preventing the Opinion Board from being an honest and open discussion space, this aspect of our education is hurt. Therefore, if this school is going to prepare us for life (which I believe it should), then maintaining the Opinion Board as an open and honest discussion space is crucial to achieving that goal,” he wrote.

Clearly, the Opinion Board needs to be revamped, but what is the best way to do so?

An announcement during an assembly will not work. There have been reminders in the past to be respectful, not only during assemblies but also on the Opinion Board itself. But students have largely ignored these warnings, evident in the sharp debates that have occurred last semester.

Discussions, as analyzed above, are also not a viable option.

One solution proposed by USC is to get rid of unprinted responses entirely. No more Post-it notes, handwritten comments, or +1s — students must completely write up their replies if they want to discuss a topic. While this takes away the anonymity of +1s and the convenience of Post-it notes, it makes students more engaged in the conversation and reduces inflammatory comments since it requires more effort. It might take up more room on the Board, but people can always cut off any white space and choose a smaller font size.

As the conversations about the Opinion Board continue into the semester, it is important that the administration and USC remain transparent with the student body, working together to create a better version of the Board.

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