A satirical column written by University of Michigan student Omar Mahmood and published last month in the independent, student-run publication the Michigan Review was apparently too much for the sensibilities of the campus newspaper The Michigan Daily, for which Mahmood also writes.
In his column, Mahmood cheekily declared “TRIGGER WARNING!” before launching into a thorough and sarcastic analysis of aggressions he faced as a man of color and, later, as a left-handed person. He wrote, for example:
The right thing… The right thing… I became so aware at that moment of the left hand that I had thrust out before falling, and suddenly my humanity was reduced to my handydnyss. The words rang in my eardrums, and my blood throbbed. This was the microaggression that broke the gender-neutral camel’s back. But unlike other microaggressions, this one triggered a shift in my worldview. All this while, I had been obsessed only with the color on this campus. All of a sudden, though, that became a side issue. All those race-based microaggressions now seemed trivial. I had, I realized, forgotten to think intersectionally.
The biggest obstacle to equality today is our barbaric attitude toward people of left-handydnyss.
Mahmood talked with The College Fix about the aftermath of the column, claiming that an editor from the Daily told him that it created a “hostile environment” and that he had to leave one of the two publications within a week. Mahmood told The Daily Caller that he would be staying with the Daily but that he would not write a public apology as its editors had requested.
An editor’s note above the full text of Mahmood’s column posted on The College Fix last week says:
Mahmood has written for both the Review and the Daily concurrently for this fall semester, but after this controversial column was published the Daily’s editors decided “Mr. Mahmood’s involvement with the Michigan Review presents a conflict of interest. Our bylaws say that once a determination is made that a conflict of interest exists, the person in question will have one week to resign from either the Daily or the organization causing the conflict of interest,” according to a statement from the Daily to The College Fix.
FIRE did not receive a response to our inquiry to the Daily asking what exactly creates a conflict of interest here. But can this one sassy column in a student-run publication really create the kind of “hostile environment” that necessitates forcing a student writer out? It certainly doesn’t constitute the kind of student-on-student “hostile environment” harassment that the university itself could punish consistent with the First Amendment. The column may be “hostile” toward certain viewpoints, but passionate disagreement is a healthy function of the marketplace of ideas that universities are meant to be.
If Mahmood’s allegations are true, his peers have demonstrated a disappointing opposition to the principle of freedom of speech. Of course, independent student newspapers like the Daily are not bound by the First Amendment, but students who value unfettered debate and free expression do not punish peers for saying or writing things with which they disagree. Instead of forcing Mahmood to choose between writing satire and reporting for the Daily, any editor who was offended by his column should have offered his or her own counterpoint to Mahmood.
Instead, the Daily’s actions will serve to make students reluctant to write further satire, confining their writing either to the non-controversial or, perhaps, to less entertaining forms. Alternatively, perhaps satire will prosper and the Daily will simply lose the journalists who aren’t afraid to offend. Neither result benefits the University of Michigan community.