This past week, the related topics of decorum and censorship arose at Antioch University Midwest. Upon entering school, I was greeted by a flyer taped to an entrance door depicting two females in a sadomasochistic pose. The flyer was generated by the AUM Voice staff and was intended to encourage students to “submit” articles to the Voice. Okay, I love words and can appreciate the double entendre. Unfortunately, the image evoked not my sense of humor or appreciation of nuances but fear.
That day, I had a conversation with two of the Voice staff members about my reaction to the flyer. It was difficult, but open and honest. Their concern about having the flyers removed from school walls and doors—not by me but evidently by others at AUM—without their permission was the attendant suggestion of censorship.
I appreciate the tension between being free and creative and “not offending” people, and I think we have a responsibility at AUM to recognize that our student population is highly diverse. My gut reaction to this depiction was fearful because, unfortunately, I know what it feels like to be held down and hurt—without my permission. I recognize that the intent in using this flyer was benign. I think using this flyer has, appropriately, evoked discussion about the issues of decorum and censorship.
Let me give a quick example: I love to curse, especially when I’m upset. Nothing quite expels my tension like a good string of expletives. However, I deliberately do a quick scan of my environment before I let loose. I do not curse when children are around, when I’m teaching or presenting a workshop, or when I’m around anyone that I suspect might be offended by that language. I don’t mind censoring myself; it seems only appropriate to do so. This is part of the responsibility of living in a society.
Now that the Voice staff is aware that using such a depiction is disturbing to others, I hope they can appreciate the wisdom of self-censorship. Using sexual references is always risky. Is getting attention worth the risk? Our diverse population includes people of all ages, from varied religious backgrounds, and often with painful life experiences. This is one of the many challenges of living in a world with people who are not just like you: striking a balance between being true to yourself and being thoughtful of the sensibilities of others. No one said that would easy, but shouldn’t we always be willing to try?