Opinion: Voices of the Divide Contest Winner Should have Recognition Revoked

Nicholas Pirhalla Courtesy of Nicholas Pirhalla

The University of Delaware has a large community of students that pride themselves in their individuality and comradery. However, anyone can be entrapped within a circle of ideologically similar people, caging our minds from empathy towards others.

The “Voices of the Divide Audio Essay Contest,” held by the UD Center for Political Communications (CPC), brought to light the stories of marginalized students that have struggled with adversity. This is a noble and necessary cause that showed myself and many others how issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia affect our fellow students.

I was shocked to find one essay among the winners of the contest had in fact alluded towards the insensitivity of the author themself.

Katie Mazur’s submission “Still Standing” states, “I even almost got kicked out of one of my clubs because someone didn’t like a picture that I posted on Instagram.” As an investigative person, I decided to look into what picture she was referring to, looking towards Google and contacting Mazur myself.

The photo was a picture of her kissing Milo Yiannopoulos at their last speech at UD. She was sent there as a reporter for the Student Television Network, which was the club she was later asked to leave, and posted the picture later that night to her private instagram account.

Milo Yiannopoulos is a member of the alt-right movement, known white supremacist and anti-trans. Expressing any kind of support for him is not to be taken lightly. Being asked to leave a club because of this open support is not discrimination for her conservative political beliefs, it is a concern that a reporter is representing their network as complicit with Yiannopoulos’s actions.

It is horribly ironic that this situation is represented as facing adversity in a contest with the goal of eliminating our social divides through open political discourse. The Voices of the Divide is trying to create a world where we can live and speak together as we choose, that is not the goal of hate monger Milo Yiannopoulos.

Bringing all of my concerns to the director of the CPC, Nancy Karibjanian, I said that the essay should be removed from “special recognition”. On top of that, the CPC should release a statement admitting that had they known the nature of the situation described in the essay, it would not have received the recognition in the first place.

Their response reviewed that the essay was a subjective reflection of Mazur’s experience and.

“An open dialogue of respect such as this is paramount for the success of the Voices of the Divide contest. The Center for Political Communication encourages civil and constructive discourse among all citizens by providing a platform for all to speak and to be heard without censorship. Therefore, the essay will remain among the top ten entries.”

This was unfortunately the response I was expecting.

The removal of Mazur’s essay from the list of winners would not be censoring her ― the essay will be free to listen on Soundcloud for anyone as long as that service is available or she takes it down herself.

Because the CPC, in consultation with the Office of Equity and Inclusion, does not want to inform their audience that one of the winning essays is in fact counterproductive to their goals, I am doing it for them.

I am exercising my right to speak openly and freely in America, without their special recognition.

I am Nicholas Pirhalla, an English major here at the University of Delaware. Contact me at nicpir@udel.edu with any inquiries.

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