School learns cen­sor­ship doesn’t work

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OP/ED - Leonard Pitts is a colum­nist for The Mi­ami Her­ald, and may be con­tacted at lpitts@mi­ami­her­ald.com. © 2018, The Mi­ami Her­ald Distributed by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency, LLC.

Here’s an ax­iomatic truth: If you want to make sure peo­ple see or hear some­thing, ban peo­ple from see­ing or hear­ing some­thing. That pre­dates the in­ter­net, as any for­mer teenager who ever hid un­der the cov­ers lis­ten­ing to “Louie Louie” with the vol­ume down can surely at­test.

We are talk­ing about a long time ago in a gal­axy far, far away. If cen­sor­ship didn’t work then on some­thing as in­con­se­quen­tial as a pop song, you can imag­ine how in­ef­fec­tive it would be now on some­thing as im­por­tant as sex­ual as­sault.

Some­body at Pe­taluma High in Pe­taluma, Cal­i­for­nia, should have fig­ured that out. In­stead, the school ap­par­ently cut the mi­cro­phone on its vale­dic­to­rian, 17-year-old Lu­la­bel Seitz, at her grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony ear­lier this month. Lu­la­bel says of­fi­cials had warned her not to men­tion be­ing the vic­tim of an al­leged sex­ual as­sault on cam­pus and what she claims was the school’s fail­ure to take ac­tion when she re­ported it.

For the first few min­utes, she obeyed that re­stric­tion, con­cen­trat­ing in­stead on stan­dard-is­sue stuff: hopes, dreams, and over­com­ing ad­ver­sity. But when Lu­la­bel turned to the for­bid­den topic, her mi­cro­phone mys­te­ri­ously stopped work­ing.

“Let her speak!” peo­ple cried out. But Lu­la­bel was not al­lowed to fin­ish.

That wasn’t the end of the story, though. The next day, she took to YouTube, where she gave her speech in its en­tirety, in­clud­ing the banned sen­tence, a paean to per­se­ver­ance that went as fol­lows: “And even learn­ing on a cam­pus in which some peo­ple de­fend per­pe­tra­tors of sex­ual as­sault and si­lence their vic­tims, we didn’t let that drag us down.”

At this writ­ing, Lu­la­bel’s video has been viewed 335,379 times. We can’t say how many peo­ple at­tended the grad­u­a­tion, but we can be pretty sure it was some­what less than 335,379. And this story has been re­ported by CNN, NBC, NPR, and The Wash­ing­ton Post, to name a few. It’s a safe bet none of those me­dia giants had planned to cover grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies at Pe­taluma High be­fore that mic was cut.

It seems that in try­ing to hush Lu­la­bel’s mes­sage, the school only mag­ni­fied it. Pe­taluma, cit­ing pri­vacy con­cerns, has de­clined to com­ment. But what were they think­ing? This is not 1963. When you shut off a mi­cro­phone, you don’t si­lence a speaker. In the era of YouTube, Twit­ter, and Face­book, we all have mi­cro­phones.

More to the point, have we not yet learned our les­son? Are we not yet pre­pared to take se­ri­ously the pain of our daugh­ters, wives, sis­ters and moth­ers? With Har­vey We­in­stein, Matt Lauer, Roy Moore, Scott Baio, Mor­gan Free­man, Louis C.K., Glenn Thrush, Char­lie Rose, John Cony­ers, R. Kelly, Ben Af­fleck, Don­ald Trump, Ge­orge H.W. Bush, and dozens of other fa­mous men stand­ing ac­cused of var­i­ous de­grees of sex­ual mis­con­duct, with Bill O’Reilly un­em­ployed, Bill Cosby fac­ing prison, and Bill Clin­ton once again stum­bling over Mon­ica Lewin­sky, it should be clear that the era of women suf­fer­ing in si­lence and hu­mil­i­a­tion is over.

But ap­par­ently, the memo has not reached Pe­taluma. A bright young girl al­leges that she was sex­u­ally as­saulted and that the peo­ple who should have helped her didn’t — and ad­min­is­tra­tors re­spond by telling her, in ef­fect, to shut up? In so do­ing, they mis­read the moral­ity of the moment and the lim­its of their power.

“Let her speak!” de­manded the crowd. “Let her speak!” Which was no­ble of them. But the les­son of this moment is that things have changed.

And women no longer need per­mis­sion.

Pitts Leonard

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