BY: STEVEN ZHOU STAFF WRITER
Some may say that I have no business writing opinion articles. For a while, I thought so myself. I’m not a journalist, I never studied anything related to journalism, and I’ve never had any experience in campus news. Moreover, I’m here at Mason studying for my Ph.D. in psychology, and writing for Fourth Estate has no bearing on my success in the program.
However, I started writing because I had an opinion on how to improve undergraduate admissions. And as the comedian Tim Minchin quipped in his 2013 commencement address at The University of Western Australia, “Opinions are like assholes in that everyone has one.” Whether you’re at Mason as a construction worker for our new building, a student studying music education or an adjunct professor for aerospace engineering — you’ve got at least one opinion worth sharing.
Minchin continues and says, “I would add that opinions differ significantly from assholes in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.”
Writing opinion pieces is the dangerous affair of putting your thoughts out in public. For every good argument I come up with about why there’s such difficulty in obtaining additional funds for student scholarships, for example, I know there’s a counter-argument that’s just as strong. And although I would never intentionally incite emotional turmoil with any of my pieces, I guarantee that some of my opinions will bring on a torrent of condemnation from some people.
But at the end of the day, putting a carefully constructed and well-researched opinion out into the wild is the best way to see if it holds up to scrutiny. If it doesn’t, it needs to be revised. There’s great harm when people hold tightly to an opinion without seeking and listening to feedback from others — racism, delusions and conflicts of all kinds. Writing an op-ed is a powerful way to test if your opinions are worth holding.
Moreover, there are opinions that are worth sharing that never see the light of day. Or, for my fellow academics and I, they’re only read by a small niche group of people in our field. Let’s be realistic. How many people outside of faculty and graduate students (and maybe their parents) in our specific field will read a paper published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology? Academic peer-reviewed journals are important, but if we truly believe that our research is worth sharing we must learn how to write and communicate to the public.
A truly good and valuable idea shouldn’t be left only in the contents of a class paper, an academic journal or your diary at home. As technology has changed, so have the media through which ideas spread. Now, op-eds have the potential to be the biggest influencer in shaping public policy and public opinion. Your musings in private on how colleges should prepare for fall 2020 in light of the coronavirus pandemic could be the catalyst to significantly changing the lives of your fellow students.
Even if you have no interest in writing for a news publication ever again after graduating, you should still do it while you have the chance. Written communication is one of the most important skills that employers look for. Whether it’s for negotiating a pay raise, trying to convince your boss to let you work from home or dealing with a nasty co-worker, everyone needs to develop the ability to communicate their ideas in a persuasive and effective manner.
We may be finishing up this year’s issues of Fourth Estate, but there are still opportunities to submit a piece in the future. I highly suggest you do so.
I fully expect 10 years from now, to look back at some of my articles and cringe at my naivety and ignorance. I hope that this isn’t one of them, and that my pro-op-ed op-ed stands the test of time.