Why the Opinion Board matters

Will Rinkoff, Staff Writer

I support the opinion board. I’m sure many other students do too, because valuing the opinion board is essentially valuing free speech, and even if you don’t value free speech, you at least value the exchange of new ideas (and if not that, you at least value being heard).

However, in recent years, the opinion board has been a lightning rod for controversy. Posts can devolve into arguments that, while usually well-reasoned, aren’t very good for understanding, much less changing different views. These arguments, usually partisan in nature, often leave both sides feeling attacked and misunderstood. And no school wants students attacked and misunderstood. Such is the short but strong case for removing the opinion board.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to keep it, and I mean besides just freedom of speech:

There’s a chance to speak your mind to the entire school (it’s weird to think about, but you can usually get a message out to the entire high school with one post. Most people, at some point, will stop to read it, and I think that reflects really well on the community).

There’s also the fact that the board represents a trust between the student body and the administration. I once read a note written by someone who was at SPA one day for a debate tournament. He said he was amazed at how respectful the discussion was, how he wished his school had an opinion board, and how that would never happen because everyone would attack each other and no one would want to read, much less participate. The students get a place for discussion in front of the entire community only because the administration believes that such a discussion won’t be toxic and inflammatory. If the opinion board is taken down, the students are partly to blame.

But the most compelling reason I can provide, compelling for the administration that is, regards courageous conversations. While I have my own thoughts about the model as a whole, two of the four core tenets are: “Speak your Truth” and “Experience Discomfort.”

It might be just me, but I think these sound like some people’s complaints about the opinion board. “Speaking your Truth” is a way of saying others may misunderstand you, and to “Experience Discomfort” is to accept that you don’t sit well with certain ideas. I don’t mean to say that uncomfortable is synonymous with attacked, but that they are the same feeling to different degrees. I don’t mean to say that misunderstanding is a good thing either, but that it’s simply unavoidable. When you don’t see where someone is coming from, you will feel they don’t understand you, and it might seem like their ideas attack your core values. But these are simply a discussion’s baby steps: it will start out unpleasant and difficult. It will be something you might want to retreat from, or something you want to retaliate against with your own comments against the other side. But eventually, if both sides lean into that discomfort, you will move forward, and both sides will begin to understand.

With this framework in mind, I have to critique the administration for not recognizing (at least not to my knowledge) that discomfort is inherently a part of the board. People might feel attacked, and people may very well be attacked. But if the writers write respectfully, and the readers assume the writers try to be respectful, that sense of being attacked turns into mere discomfort, discomfort that might motivate a respectful response to continue the conversation and seek to understand each other on each others terms.

So I call upon the SPA community to post something on the opinion board. Something honest, maybe thought-provoking; something that might make the reader a little uncomfortable because their ideas are being questioned. And I call upon the community to read that post or posts, and respond with why they’re uncomfortable and then share their thoughts, then the original author shares how they feel, and so on, until we can get past each side’s preconceived notions, past the baby steps, and foster a culture surrounding the opinion board where people post not just because they want to be heard, but because they want to and can be understood.