Censorship and Squirrels

Censorship and Squirrels

On January 21, the Caltech graduate student body received an email entitled “Campus Poll to Protect Wildlife”. The email, for those unfamiliar, provided a link to a poll where students could report concentrations of Fox squirrels on campus so that “yield to wildlife” road signs could be put up in strategic squirrel locations.

The email set off a colorful Reply-All debate about roadkill, invasive species, native western gray squirrels, and speed limits. There were disagreements, but the matter was being settled in the public forum via the graduate student mailing list. Just as the argument started to heat up, a message was sent out from the Graduate Student Council (GSC) chairs suggesting that students refrain from using Reply-All for future messages. At that point, no further debate took place and the emails fell silent; we all went back to our work assuming that the matter of the squirrels had been settled.

So, why am I writing this, almost 8 months after the incident? Squirrels were discussed in view of a thousand graduate students, and then the discussion naturally reached its conclusion. What’s the problem?

I was saddened to recently hear that this was not, in fact, the end of the squirrel discussion. A whistleblower from within GSC (who will remain anonymous) recently revealed to me just this week that there were, in fact, at least 4 additional squirrel-related emails which were censored by GSC administration. These emails were intended to be viewed by the entire graduate student body, but were hidden from view by an elite few within GSC.

Why were these emails not allowed to be shown to the public? Yes, Reply-All can be annoying, but surely students have a right to email who they wish. Why is the GSC trying to control the narrative, picking and choosing what information we should be able to see? Are we not allowed to openly discuss matters of importance on campus anymore? It might just be some emails about squirrels today, but what will it be tomorrow? What if GSC just decides you don’t need to see something that you would have found important? Should they have that power?

Speaking on behalf of many graduate students, I am demanding that GSC release the censored squirrel emails to their intended audience: the graduate student mailing list. We cannot allow censorship to become commonplace at Caltech. Release the squirrel emails and let us, the graduate student body, decide what to think of them.