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Letter from the Opinion Editor: A column is just the beginning

Alex Schwartz, Opinion Editor

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Hannah Montana has said time and time again that “nobody’s perfect,” and I take that to heart. I’m not perfect. My ideas aren’t perfect. My columns aren’t perfect. My editing isn’t perfect. This section isn’t perfect, nor are the other people who contribute to it. This publication isn’t perfect, and neither are its readers or the greater community it exists in. But does that mean none of us should strive for perfection?

I had somewhat of an abstract list of goals in my head when I applied to be Opinion Editor: I want to keep moving forward with our mission of publishing a diverse range of viewpoints, I want to incorporate more multimedia into this section and I want columnists to talk more about their own, unique experiences as human beings. But most of all, I want everyone involved with Opinion — from the people who write columns to the people who read and respond to them — to really think about why we have opinions and how we communicate them.

At face value, it seems like we write to change minds. I don’t necessarily agree: It’s naive to assume that the deeply ingrained social and political biases we all hold can be uprooted in 700 words or less. But we can (and should) still try to bring in new perspectives and challenge pre-existing ideas without expecting them to change instantaneously. A column is just a taste of an idea — it should attempt to start a conversation, not end one.

I want the words of this section to make people question norms and structures and their own places within them. I want to start elevated dialogues about issues that affect all of us. But a dialogue is not a dialogue if it’s one-sided; we shouldn’t be starting a conversation already yelling. We will do our best to write columns with as much balance and respect as we can muster; we will talk down less and find more common ground. We cannot hope to one day change a person’s mind without acknowledging that it will take time for them to do so.

This will take work from all those involved with Opinion: from those of us who write and edit columns to those of you who read them. It means us writing with empathy and kindness over buzzwords, and understanding that no issue can be boiled down to a single column. It means you working through your gut reactions to a piece and really mulling over its ideas in your head before commenting. It means all of us assuming best intentions while constructively critiquing each other when we falter (and we will falter). It means seeing mistakes as quintessentially, exquisitely human and as things to grow and learn from, not be “canceled” for.

No one should be expected to put in the emotional effort to “debate their oppressors” whenever or wherever these debates should arise. Nor should we create false equivalencies by trying to force balanced dialogues on inherently unbalanced issues. But for the most part, I want Opinion to be a space where we can create and sustain discourse in a manner that acknowledges the capacity for humanity on both sides. The Daily is the intersection between Northwestern students, faculty, alumni and members of the Evanston community, and we should not treat it like an echo chamber when it should speak to all those groups. From columns to comments, we should use inclusive language that everyone, even the “opposition,” can access. In no way am I suggesting we censor our arguments; it is possible to retain ideological integrity while staying balanced.

These are the ideals I envision for this section and for our greater discourse. Will we reach them? Absolutely not. Does that mean we shouldn’t try? Absolutely not. Striving for perfection while acknowledging that you can never attain it is a paradox, but it’s one that I think makes running this section exciting and worthwhile. I’m fully prepared to publish some questionable pieces that don’t quite align with this mission, be made fun of in countless posts in the meme page and receive oodles of hate comments. No, we won’t be perfect, but we’re still, to paraphrase Hannah Montana, going to work it.

If you’re bored with commenting or reading from afar, I invite you to join us. If there’s an idea or topic you feel is underrepresented in this section, write about it. If there’s a way we can better communicate an argument, let us know. But the worst thing you can do in this day and age is stay silent.

Alex Schwartz is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at alexschwartz@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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