School must balance discipline and free speech

by Alastair Pearson ‘14

As you’ll read in our news section, senior Richard Benninger made a bold proclamation over the school intercom on November 12. The fatal words: “It’s boot season!”

On that day, when a light sheen of snow covered the mall, Benninger may have intended to gently mock the school’s strict standards for personal decorum. But Mr. Hennessy has long maintained that boots can only be substituted for dress shoes when there is actually snow on the ground.

Whatever his motive, Benninger was promptly removed from the morning announcement team. His dismissal is not by its nature a cause for concern–there is a difference between infringement of freedom of speech and a clear expectation of professional behavior from those students entrusted with all-campus communications access.

Student announcers have a responsibility to deliver important information to the student body: club meetings, upcoming events; even, perhaps, seasonal changes in the dress code. Most of them do inject a personal touch to the script to add levity to an otherwise monotonous five minutes. Few current seniors will forget Harrison Stadnik’s gleeful mispronunciation of the “Blood Club,” or John Fanta’s signature laugh.

The standard that must be established is what constitutes an acceptable breach of decorum. When Camden Stacey was dismissed from an announcing role last spring after introducing himself as “your friendly neighborhood white kid,” students around campus were jolted out of their mid-morning reverie. Stacey’s utterance seems significantly less innocent than Benninger’s, and, even if delivered ironically, unintentionally crossed a line that necessitated some kind of meaningful disciplinary response from Mr. Hennessy.

Benninger’s immature joke did not. He satirized the inaugural day of “boot season”: a miserable, gray, frigid time of year when Ignatius students trudge through mounds of snow between classes, when biting winds chip at our ears and essentially the only bright spot in our day is our ability to take solace in warm feet and coffee.

If the administration feels that adherence to the script must be mandatory for student announcers,that is their choice. But on behalf of Benninger and on behalf of a student body that deserves some degree of reasonableness and lassitude, the measure we hold our announcers to – and by extension ourselves – has to allow for human error.

If Stacey offended, then perhaps he should have been allowed to apologize. Losing his position for a one-time mistake seems unfair. The discrepancy is even worse for Benninger, an active member of Student Senate and numerous other student organizations, including the Eye. If they needed to be punished, it should have been through something like a public apology. Justice is supposed to be proportional.

For students to grow, they need space to err. For campus to be vibrant, free speech must be tolerated. We are only human, and we should be allowed to move off the beaten path on occasion.