Why I Write for The Cowl: Student Journalism, Civic Debate, and Self-expression

by Sarah McLaughlin '23 on October 6, 2022


As the new on-campus panel discussion series began this week, I have been reminded of how important it is that we, as students, have the ability to express our thoughts in a long-form, professional manner. It is great that professors with opinions that conflict with PC’s norms have been given a platform to speak on these issues and debate with the opposing side, but it is equally imperative that students have the opportunity to speak on issues that affect them. 

Do not get me wrong—many opportunities do already present themselves on a daily basis. Small-group, seminar-style classes have been immensely beneficial to my education at PC because of the space they provide for intense discussion and debate amongst peers. We also are more privileged than ever with the ability to express ourselves via social media. However, I don’t think these mediums lend themselves to nuanced ideas as much as writing does (writing beyond the length of a Tweet, that is). Debating in class and posting on social media can often feel like speaking into the void. After everyone packs their bags at the end of the seminar, we tend to move on with our day, move on to work or studying or the next class, and much of the conversation is forgotten. Maybe you will recall the girl who sits across from you as the one who was really passionate about a particular issue, but the details and nuances of the argument are often lost. The effect of social media is even worse. Not only has it been shortening our attention spans drastically—maybe that’s why we can’t sit still in seminars—but it also promotes the most extreme, outlandish, and hateful views for purposes of grabbing your attention. Anger is entertaining. Social media is entertainment, not a polis.

This is why I emphasize the importance of student journalism. The act of writing compels us to sit down, let our thoughts ruminate, and choose the optimal language with which to express them. The time it takes forces us to consider the ways in which it might be perceived, the potential reactions of others, and how to correct any misunderstanding before it arises. It encourages us to build a logical structure and provide concrete evidence for our abstract ideas.

By writing, we engage in a tradition that marked one of the largest developments in human technology over five thousand years ago. As long as it has existed, writing has been a means of conveying information in a more permanent way than spoken word. We’ve moved past clay tablets and now print 1500 copies of a 20-page paper to distribute across campus. Isn’t that awesome?