While I applaud the Student Association’s efforts to “encourage engagement beyond the hedges,” providing full access to The New York Times for free may not be the best way to effect change on the levels of student engagement with the wider world.
My concern about this move is not because of the chosen publication. The New York Times is a reputable and widely acclaimed paper, and the Rice community will certainly benefit from gaining access to the information the NYT provides. I fear, however, that providing free full access to the NYT over other valid choices and publicizing this move to the Rice community places the newspaper on a pedestal above other publications.
I understand that the NYT initiative is just the first step of the SA’s efforts to achieve their goal of a more informed student body. However, the selection of only one news source at this trial stage is counterintuitive and may send the wrong message to the community as a whole. All publications are susceptible to human subjectivity.The choice of which views to represent and which stories to cover are a result of a source’s decisions and preferences. The NYT is certainly not exempt from this rule, and its left-of-center editorial stance is widely known. Thus, the SA’s special treatment of the NYT amounts to a symbolic endorsement for the newspaper’s editorial stance. Being shackled to this one perspective — however reputable the source may be — brings us no closer to achieving the goal of a diverse intellectual community. One is not enough.
True engagement requires us not only to be aware of the news, but also to understand the news from differing perspectives. Instead of giving special treatment to one newspaper, the SA should do its part by exposing the community to the numerous respected and nuanced newspapers, think tanks, weeklies and journals from all sides of the political spectrum and from across the world, many of which are free. As the SA president pointed out, Fondren Library already offers access to a large selection of sources, many as reputable as the NYT. Working with Fondren and focusing on advertising and improving this existing service may be more effective in encouraging true engagement and intellectual diversity than emphasizing one newly acquired source.
Regardless of the SA’s actions, the onus still falls on us, the members of the Rice community. It may be taxing to read an article that disagrees with values we hold dear, and it is perhaps difficult to pay attention to a newspaper discussing events occurring halfway across the world. But if we are serious in our goal of comprehending “the vast spectrum of human endeavor,” especially in our challenging political milieu, then we must dare to be uncomfortable. Intellectual discomfort is critical in understanding perspectives far different from ours. We should read and interact with these opposing viewpoints not to denigrate the authors or editors, but to recognize and appreciate their arguments.
True engagement is not an easy process; it will not be solved simply by reading The New York Times every day. To truly engage is to embrace discomfort.
Darren Pomida is a Will Rice College junior.