Doing unto others?

The September 19 edition of The Argosy contained an article titled “STDs. {Student-typical disorders}.” Many perceived it as funny and in good taste. Unfortunately, not all of our readers shared this assessment: other readers, including some with learning disabilities, felt that The Argosy had, consciously or not, targeted them as members of a marginal group.

Both The Argosy’s acting ombudsperson Filip Jaworski and I met with a few concerned individuals following the article’s publication. Some of the people we met with were gentle: They wondered where the line was between ‘funny’ and ‘offensive’, and asked us to be sensitive. I suggest that determining whether something is ‘funny’ varies on context, and should be left to the individual.

Others were angry: How could The Argosy, a publication with relatively strict ethical standards, print an article that seemed to suggest those with legitimate learning or social issues needed to get over themselves? That they were faking it? It did not occur to us at any point prior to publication that the article could be so deeply upsetting to some of our peers.

A close review of the article revealed that our editing process could have been more careful. The section captioned “OCD: Obsessive Cat Dependence” had one line bearing a little too much similarity to actual obsessive-compulsive disorder. While it was certainly not our intention to belittle those with OCD, I understand that seeing that in The Argosy could have been hurtful.

I know that learning disabilities can be challenging at the best of times. One reader told me that he had faced a lifetime of discrimination, bullying, and indifference from peers and educators, based solely on behavioural and learning challenges that no young person could reasonably be expected to solve. He told me he realized that The Argosy had not intended to make fun of him, but that he felt attacked and disrespected all the same.

For that, I apologize.

This paper will never ask forgiveness for simply hurting someone’s feelings, or for printing something that is not in ‘good taste’. Free speech allows us to do what we do, and when we are at our best, we use it responsibly to critically examine the world around us and to reflect on ourselves. Sometimes, meaningful insight is mean, and I would not have it any other way.

But sometimes, we hurt those who do not deserve it. Any part that The Argosy has played in perpetuating the stigmatization of any marginal group was and remains inappropriate. We will be more careful in the future.

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