Staff Editorial

A treatise on freedom of expression, and applications for UPAC Cinema and American Sniper

As a media organization, The Polytechnic strongly endorses freedom of expression. Expression includes, but is not limited to, speaking, writing, behaving, acting, and not acting. To emphasize, the decision of an entity to act or not act constitutes expression equally to conventional speech (film, writing, speaking, etc.).

Expression in environments of coercion, even implicit or imagined, cannot be free. Had the RPI administration explicitly forbidden UPAC Cinema from showing a movie, censorship would have occurred in the form of limiting UPAC Cinema’s ability to show a movie. However, since this is not known to have occurred, UPAC Cinema acted freely.

Grossly overgeneralized stereotyping of groups, both minority and majority, remains a very serious obstacle in the path of the movement towards a free and open society, on any scale. The attributes of the constituents of groups of people are nearly always far more complex and nuanced than commonly held stereotypes will allow for. Conduct which furthers broadly hateful perceptions of any group of people constitutes expression which deservedly arouses public criticism, of both the conduct and the entity promoting such perceptions.

However, the culture of undeserved usage of such public criticism towards entities which neither intend to nor actually do promote hateful perceptions exists as a softer, implicit form of coercion which not only restricts freedom of expression, but also limits productive discourse regarding such groups. Fear of being declared racist, homophobic, sexist, anti-(religion x), and other labels for behaviors which aren’t actually intended to promote hateful perceptions can cause entities to choose to broadly avoid those topics. Specifically, not organizing decision making around avoiding glancingly offending sensitive groups is sometimes misconstrued as actual racism, homophobicism, etc. This is simultaneously counterproductive to the idea of ending racism, homophobicism, etc., and unreasonably damaging to non-aggressive organizations from the stigma of being labeled as being hateful of a minority. Bluntly, entities should not be expected to cater to every conceivable sensibility. It is the responsibility of those who publicly comment on the actions of others to not misconstrue the meaning of their actions.

That said, no entity should intentionally damage or anger another, merely for the sport of doing so. We wish to generally promote thoughtful expression. If an entity promotes hateful perceptions, most especially if deliberately so, they deserve condemnation. If an entity construes the actions of others as hateful when they actually aren’t or are extremely marginally so, they similarly deserve condemnation.

In reference to the current American Sniper controversy, UPAC Cinema expressed itself by deciding to change their presentation schedule and add an optional open discussion between members of the RPI community and any interested parties which wish to be represented, including the Muslim Student Association and some recent veterans. UPAC Cinema should certainly have not been coerced into acting in a certain way by RPI administration or any other organization with hard power over them, and we have no reason to believe it was. UPAC Cinema also should not have felt that if they did not respond to the request of the MSA that they would have provoked being labeled anti-Muslim. UPAC Cinema should also not feel that if they do postpone their movie showing that they will be labeled as un-American or other labels which go along with being viewed as not supporting U.S. soldiers. UPAC Cinema had every right to choose how they wish to present media within their own programming, and how to respond to the requests of another entity.

On a related note, publishing misleading articles on the above subject is an unacceptable form of expression. For example, Fox News Insider stated that “Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York has postponed a screening of “American Sniper” after the Muslim Students Association called for its cancellation.” The Independent Journal Review went as far as to state that “Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York has bowed to the protests of its Muslim Students Association and cancelled a planned screening of ‘American Sniper.’” These are examples of the numerous misleading or otherwise false reports that have circulated in the past few days. Just as well as The Polytechnic supports freedom of expression, The Polytechnic also strongly endorses factual journalism. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute neither cancelled nor postponed American Sniper; UPAC Cinema, a student run organization, postponed American Sniper on their own accord, free of coercion from RPI administration.­