With freedom of expression comes responsibility

Sophie Haber

Fifty years ago this week, the Supreme Court ruled that a school’s restriction of silent student protest against the Vietnam War was unconstitutional in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, licensing freedom of expression for students in the context of their schools. It is probably because of this 1969 decision to allow a 13 year old girl to wear a black arm band to junior high school that I am able to write this article today, to post it online without an adult at the school vetting it first and to preside over my own words.

Tinker v. Des Moines granted students freedom to control their own voices, and with that freedom came responsibility.

At Harvard-Westlake, we are given more leeway than at most schools to express ourselves without fear of repercussions. This is a privilege that is not lost on us who work on the student newspaper.

I know I am lucky that, as a teenager, I am allowed to investigate the truth, to disseminate it by means of news, features and sports stories, and to speak my mind, no matter how controversial my thoughts may be, in our opinion section.

The Chronicle is a student run publication. No adult on this campus has prior review — not the administration, and not even our adviser. This means that, as a student editor, I am given the power to take risks and the responsibility to think them through.

I do not take that responsibility lightly. In our management team meetings, we weigh the importance of each story, consider each of our anonymous sources, seek to corroborate every fact and work to balance our paper with a variety of voices.

The decisions we are faced with are often hard and nuanced.

Our team of editors, admittedly, is not very diverse. And while we prioritize being a representative outlet for everyone in our community, there are times when we miss certain perspectives.

In circumstances like that, we want our community to call us out, to write in a letter to the editors and to talk to us.

That being said, I want our readers to realize how seriously we take our role as student journalists. We don’t view our jobs as something mechanical. We know how important it is to think deeply about the choices that we make.

“It has been said that the responsibility of the press is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and sometimes when our student journalists have jabbed and poked, it has made us a little uncomfortable,” Former Head of School Tom Hudnut told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. “But that’s the role of the press, and I have defended this paper, and it has been chosen the best high school paper in the country numerous times. I’m very proud of them.”

I immensely appreciate our school for giving us an outlet to exercise our freedom of expression and learn how to take the responsibility that it comes with at the Chronicle. And, on this anniversary, I am thankful to the people who paved the way for my unfiltered voice to be heard.