The opinions section needs to reflect the community, so tell us what you think

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Illustration courtesy of Alice Feng / The Occidental

After I wrote an opinions piece articulating the struggles that come with being mixed race, I received an outpour of emails from readers explaining how much the piece resonated with them. The most common response was, “I wish the paper had more stories like this, telling people’s personal experiences and struggles that I could relate to.”

As one of the opinions editors of The Occidental, I want the same. Anyone can write for the opinions section, and yet people rarely do. The only prerequisite is to have an opinion, and based on the number of Oxy Confessions, I know there is no shortage. This section has the potential to be the most inclusive section of the paper with first-hand perspectives from people all across campus, but currently, it’s not. My goal for the opinions section is to represent the breadth and diversity of thought at Occidental College. For this to happen, we need people to speak up and send in their opinions.

The opinions section is meant to reflect the community, not solely those associated with The Occidental. The Occidental’s editorial board — composed of the editors and senior leadership — can write unsigned editorials on issues they find important, such as the ethics of student journalism. However, people outside of the editorial board write the majority of opinions pieces. Opinions pieces present opportunities for anyone in the community to bring attention to issues they find important. Through Letters to the Editor, people can respond to articles or issues brought up within our pages or on campus.

Although we don’t shy away from controversy, we avoid publishing hate speech or pieces that are intentionally written to hurt someone else. All pieces go through rounds of editing with the opinions editors and senior leadership. When we edit opinions pieces and Letters to the Editor, we edit for style, length and accuracy to make the argument as sound and strong as it can be.

I’m just one person, and I can only write about what I know. I’ve written about gun controlSNL and even Rihanna. But there are issues and pockets of campus that I’m not familiar with, and I don’t have the experience to write informed opinions about them. At Sunday night pitch meetings, when my co-editor Natalie Ray and I pitch opinions piece ideas to our staff, we may be unintentionally overlooking issues and voices on our campus. Even if we are aware of such issues, we can’t force our staff writers to form opinions on them. The Occidental staff is a small portion of campus, and I don’t want only our staff’s voices represented in the paper.

The other sections in the paper are there to inform the community about what’s going on around us, but the opinions section is where we can grapple with those same topics. I see the purpose of opinions articles as pushing people outside of their intellectual comfort zones to consider other points of view. It’s about creating a productive dialogue.

When I wrote about gun control, I received many emails from people who didn’t agree with my argument. But it did spark meaningful conversations. Although neither of us could convince the other to switch sides, the fact that we were having a civil discussion about our views was still valuable. When I edit opinions pieces, I tell people to consider a counterargument to show that they don’t live in an echo chamber. It’s not helpful for anyone to only interact with views they agree with — there’s no growth or learning that follows.

Unlike news articles, there is no reporter acting as a mediator between you and the reader. You’re involved with every sentence, and it’s your name attached to the writing. Every time I write an opinions piece, I learn more about myself as I have to define what I think about an issue and how to articulate that to others. Publishing opinions through a reputable platform like The Occidental, instead of an exhaustive Facebook post, elevates the reputability of your opinion.

As exciting as it may be to write about things you find interesting and worthwhile, I understand how scary it can be to write opinions and own up to what you think. It actually took me months to write my opinions piece titled “Kristine ‘isn’t’ White,” and to fully articulate and voice the struggles and confusion I’ve had surrounding my mixed-race identity my whole life. I was almost too afraid to publish it because I had never read anyone else voicing the same problems, and I thought something was wrong with me. But those are the opinions articles that can make a difference. Because I wanted to see more stories like this, I had to put my own out there first.

While the paper as a whole is here to serve the community, Occidental students have the opportunity to make the opinions section their own. I want people to be excited to read this section and see what new ideas have formed each week. My efforts to create a more representative and inclusive section can only go so far without the contributions of others. If you have an issue with the opinions in The Occidental, instead of putting the paper down and refusing to read more, I encourage you to write your own informed opinion and send it to us.

Kristine White is a junior English major. She can be reached at kwhite2@oxy.edu.