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Revive the Viewpoint war

Alex Caton | Sunday, April 7, 2013

Here is a story of two geniuses. The first is Abraham Lincoln. According to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, “When he was upset with somebody, he would write what he called a ‘hot letter,’ where he would write everything down. He would put it aside until his emotions cooled off and then write ‘never sent, never signed.'”
The second genius is my father. During my childhood, he would read through the opinion section of our sub-par suburban newspaper on a daily basis. If a letter in there made him angry, he would say, “I feel a letter to the editor brewing.” Mom would say “Oh no” and I would get pretty excited, because through “Meet the Press,” my dad had taught me since age four to love arguing for its own sake. Unaffected by any of this, dad would go to our desktop and start hammering out the first of several drafts, which would then be published for all of the tri-city area to see. It was a beautiful thing.
Over spring break, I found an issue of The Observer from last year, published just after Alliance N.D. looked like it would be denied club status again. There were two full columns and four letters to the editor across the two pages of the Viewpoint section, all in miniscule font just to make the different perspectives fit within the page boundaries. In contrast, there have been a minute fraction of the submissions the past few weeks in the wake of Supreme Court oral arguments on DOMA and Prop 8.
In short, our beloved Viewpoint section seems to have lost its luster lately. Space usually occupied by the 350-word rants of Notre Dame’s own is instead being filled by columns from other college newspapers, or from the previously-only-reserved-for-special-occasions Observer Editorial Board. This isn’t happening because The Observer thinks columnists from Michigan, Brown, or Ohio State have more valuable opinions, or because there aren’t plenty of worthy shenanigans happening now at Our Lady’s University deserving of the student voice. My guess, rather, is too many people here are doing what Lincoln did – typing their thoughts out and then leaving them “never sent, never signed”.
Or maybe they’re not writing at all, which would be pretty sad.
Notre Dame students, I implore you in this case not to do what Lincoln did. At some point you have seen a Viewpoint letter that made you disappointed to share the same air with whomever wrote it. When that happens, you owe it to them and to yourself to articulately and more-or-less politely make that known. 
It would be one thing if my lunchtime entertainment were the only thing on the line here. But I think the Viewpoint section is more than that. We prize Viewpoint wars not just because we enjoy watching students take verbal shots at each other, but because we like to engage in the issues we see as important here at Notre Dame. Opening up the paper to a set of columns not especially relevant to our day-to-day experience or not strongly-worded or strongly-argued enough to spur reaction is just disappointing. If the only people taking time to write opinion letters are hacks like me with biweekly columns, we limit the voices heard and we all lose something.
One might argue we students are more likely to write or respond to material on University issues than national ones. Fair enough. But right now nobody is writing about anything at all. And it’s not for shortage of material. Mendoza just got the number one “Businessweek” ranking again. Part of you is happy, but is the other part of you wishing to cut them down to size – Arts & Letters students? The women’s basketball team is in the Final Four – you care, of course, but if they lowered the rim so the players could dunk, would you be more likely to actually watch? Arts & Letters is trying to bring down its mean G.P.A. but hasn’t consulted you. Does that make you angry? The Student Activities Office is discontinuing hall storage this summer. Should we in turn discontinue SAO? The Hesburgh Library is going to be renovated. Do you have a genius idea to make “Club Hes” bump like never before? One look at “ND Confessions” reveals a profound lack of mental health awareness here. Shouldn’t we do something about it? And for the love of God, why are we paying $1.10 at The Huddle for a can of Arnold Palmer that is clearly labeled, “99 cents”?
If you find yourself nodding your head to any of those questions, or if another piece of the campus-wide shenanigans is really grinding your gears, consider putting it in writing. The Viewpoint section is an invaluable tool for challenging the status quo head-on with your own common sense, and for bringing your views to a relatively large readership (including Main Building administrators who might just take you up on your idea). Whether the Viewpoint section remains a center for inciting discussion, debate and change here is on you, reader. Go to it.

Alex Caton is a sophomore studying political
science.  He can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.