In a column published today by The Tech, an independent student newspaper at MIT, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff explores how far colleges will go to censor controversial art on campus.
Titled “When the Artist’s Brush Catches the Censor’s Eye,” Greg’s column cites numerous troubling examples, including the following from MIT:
MIT students recently witnessed this type of suppression when the school painted over certain murals in the Burton-Conner dormitory. Unconventional student art can be found throughout the halls of Burton-Conner. The building is filled with “lovely, quirky, bizarre, exquisitely beautiful art,” according to Anne McCants, the dormitory’s housemaster. The censored murals, however, touched upon aspects of college life that some might find distasteful, including drinking and sexual activity. McCants stated that these images could have been interpreted “as a celebration of drunkenness” and advocacy of violence and sexual misconduct.
Greg addresses the apparent rationale behind censorship of art on campus. He explains:
The desire to prevent “offense” often cloaks the desire to silence one’s opponents with the seemingly noble goal of ensuring that everyone is comfortable. And people are generally more comfortable with popular ideas that don’t “rock the boat.” There is certainly a place for safe, popular art, whether it is the paintings of Thomas Kinkade or the music of Taylor Swift. But there is also tremendous value in art that forces us to challenge our beliefs. Do we want to live in a world where artists are not allowed to stray beyond the confines of comfort, and where unusual expression is quickly suppressed?
For more on this disturbing pattern of artistic censorship on campus, check out Greg’s full piece in The Tech.
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