Disclosure: I am a student at Michigan Tech. I tap into my personal experiences to describe the student body’s general attitude toward the parties involved, but I do not otherwise attempt to represent my opinions or attitudes as fact.
***UPDATE #1*** — The Daily Bull has issued an apology statement, viewable here.
Students at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, MI were greeted this morning with a strongly worded e-mail from Les Cook, VP of Student Affairs, which is stirring up a great deal of controversy. The email is an “update to Wednesday’s e-mail” which urged students to foster an “inclusive community” and denounced the actions of students observed celebrating Halloween by, among other things, dressing in black face and “parading the Confederate flag.”
Les is seen as something of an enigma to students at Tech. His personal slogan, #tenacity, has been simultaneously parodied and celebrated by the student body. The Houghton, MI Yik Yak board is evident of this. But, all told, Les is regarded as a fantastic role model by a great number of students. That makes the email from this morning much more jarring. At 10:30, Les sent out what some might see as, at best, an uncharacteristically nasty piece on The Daily Bull, the university’s self-professed “daily-ish” satire publication. Some students, however, saw Les’ message as a hostile attack on the publication. Therein, Les bemoans the Bull’s most recent cover story, calling it “lewd, humorless, insensitive, and … dangerous” and claiming it “[advocates] discrimination and sexual violence.”
What is he talking about? The article in question was published that same Wednesday, and was titled “Sexually Harassed Man Pretty Okay With Situation.” You can view the full issue of The Daily Bull here. The article in question is pictured below.
At first glance, this article is scathing. The (presumably fictional) student at a party over the weekend describes multiple instances of “very attractive” women forcing themselves on him, everywhere from innocuous compliments to butt-grabbing and against-his-will makeout sessions.
The article’s punchline of sorts, however, comes at the end, when the student is suddenly revolted and “violated” by one final advance. “‘There was this one girl giving me this really sexual look … She was kinda ugly though, and it made me feel violated.'”
This appears, to me, to be a satire of the perceived female bias with respect to attractive vs. “ugly” men flirting with or making advances on them. The author seeks to parody the irony of the situation by flipping the genders and cranking the hyperbole up to 11. But it seems, according to Les above, that the humor didn’t ring true. Students reportedly feel threatened or even violated by the blatantly un-PC article.
The controversy, thus, is an outgrowth of a greater debate taking place throughout the Western world; the definition and extent of freedom of speech, and of the press. Movements for social justice, including feminism, cry foul, claiming, in Les’ words, that such speech “advocates violence” and “encourages laws to be broken” and, therefore, should be restricted, or censored entirely. Free speech proponents argue that the censorship of satire, or, indeed, any form of speech, is a dangerous proposal, since it can open the floodgates for censorship of ideas.
Other students argue there’s no reason to be offended. Reddit’s /r/MTU believes the whole situation is an overreaction. User /u/a_leon writes,
It’s standard Bull satire. Somehow people don’t get that ‘bull’ is short for ‘bullshit’ and most not realize it’s satire. Similarly, somehow people don’t get that “The Pile” is shortened “The Steaming Pile”. I understand not knowing it’s shortened for that, but not figuring out that the whole idea of the daily bull is a giant poop joke is…beyond me.
Anonymous users of the local Yik Yak discussion board point out that the article opposite “Sexually Harassed Man” is an anthology of reviews on dinosaur erotica, and that the Bull’s slogan is telling in its own right: “Disclaimer: Just because it’s printed, doesn’t make it true.” Check out these screenshots of the discussion.
I’ve reached out to parties on both sides for comment. Check back here for updates as the story develops.