“You’re doing it all wrong!”


 “Your message is fine, but you’re doing it all wrong!” one student shouted during our recent outreach at Otterbein University.

When asked to explain, she declared that showing “shocking photos” is wrong. I asked if she’d seen this summer the photo The Wall Street Journal said “echoed around the world” of the 3-year-old migrant boy dead on the Turkish coast. She answered affirmatively.

“Was it wrong for the media to show this tragic photo of the dead child?”

“No. People should know.”

Proceeding gently, I asked, “So why would you support showing tragic photos of children dead overseas but oppose showing children killed here?”

To her credit, she paused, then answered: “Okay. That makes sense.”

Unfortunately, some Otterbein students the same day lacked the open-mindedness of this young woman. First two students appeared with a bedsheet to try to cover the abortion victims. Celebratory high-fives from some of their peers inspired others then to follow suit, and eventually there were a handful of students holding sheets trying to cover the pictures.

I asked the students why they would try to engage in censorship on a campus ostensibly dedicated to the principles of liberal discussion. Their responses varied from creating distinctions without a difference—“We’re not censoring. We’re hiding pictures!”—to honest proclamations: “We shouldn’t have to look at chopped up babies!”

Their distaste for discomfort caused my colleague Josh afterward to recall a recent statement by President Obama—with which I surprisingly agree:

I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think . . . anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, “You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.” That’s not the way we learn either.

Nevertheless, not only did the attempted censorship fail, but, ironically, their efforts only increased interest in our presence as people came out to see what was taking place.