Wesleyan students push boycott of campus newspaper

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A conservative op-ed prompts a boycott of a 147-year-old student newspaper.

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. Students and staff at Wesleyan University are demanding the school cut funding to its own newspaper, The Wesleyan Argus, for publishing a column questioning the Black Lives Matter movement.On Sunday, September 20th, members of the Wesleyan Student Assembly discussed a petition calling for a boycott of the Argus, the student newspaper founded in 1868, and a revocation of its university-sanctioned funding. The op-ed asks BLMers to “rethink how” they’re approaching the problem of racial injustice and recommends they distance themselves from the “vilification and denigration of the police.” Sounds pretty reasonable to us.

The paper promised to publish a “Black Out” issue written entirely be racial minorities in order to atone for its sins, and also said it would institute a tougher fact-checking process to stop “questionable information” from being published. Executive Editor Gabe Rosenberg, who has been salvaging discarded batches of the latest edition from campus recycling bins, said the paper is looking into arranging outside financing. The petition, signed by 147 students, says the paper “neglects to provide a safe space for the voices of students of color and we are doubtful that it will in the future,” according to The Argus . As is the case for literally thousands of undergraduate op-ed pieces published by universities since the dawn of the written word, Bryan’s argument is super fucking dumb. Those demands include creating a special front-page section dedicated to marginalized voices and forcing all Argus staff to be trained in social justice and diversity once per term, among other things.

Rather than take into account the highly American legacy of systemic subjugation and abuse of people of color that still persists today in innumerable iterations, especially within academic institutions such as 53% white Wesleyan University, Bryan trusted his sympathy for cops and his distaste for violence. “I warned in an article last semester that a movement that does not combat its own extremists will quickly run into trouble,” Bryan writes. Wow dude, thank you so much, but in my opinion, the Argus editors should have taken your writing as a warning to rarely (if ever) publish your thoughts.

The assembly’s president, Kate Cullen, said in a prepared statement that it promotes respectful discourse and is hosting another forum on the petition this weekend to discuss next steps and promote community through greater inclusion. The paper noted in its apology last week that budget cuts from the assembly have left it unable to offer any paid staff positions, throwing up a barrier to participation for the less economically well-off. In the past, papers have been removed from campuses by individual students, student groups, sports teams and even school administrators unhappy with some aspect or another of a paper’s coverage. Wesleyan administrators haven’t responded to the petition directly, but school president Michael Roth did publish a response to the outrage against the op-ed that emphasized that free speech matters along with Black Lives. “Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable,” the response says. “As members of a university community, we always have the right to respond with our own opinions, but there is no right not to be offended. Despite what Gawker might have you believe, what we write and what we think about in college matters, because one stupid op-ed has prompted Wesleyan’s student body to seriously consider shutting down a publication that, like every other college publication, is literally built to publish stupid student thoughts.

The Student Law Press Center, a group that provides legal assistance to and advocacy for student journalists at the high school and college levels, calls newspaper theft a “crime” and “a terribly effective form of censorship.” They’ve tracked 268 instances of large-scale student newspaper theft since the early 2000s, ranging from dozens to thousands of copies of student papers each. She’s had the job for a little over three weeks, and she told me that two Sundays from now, WSA will hold a vote to determine whether or not the university should continue to fund the newspaper. In a cafe, an activist berated me in public for 15 minutes,” Stascavage writes. “According to one commenter on my column, my picture is being posted online with comments that ‘seem to be calling for violence’ against me.” At one point, he says, activists stormed into the Argus’s offices and screamed at editors, demanding that the entire next issue be dedicated to apologizing.

Stories on misbehavior or wrongdoing of individual students — drug busts, rape allegations, etc. — resulted in 53 instances of theft in the SPLC’s database. I’ll be revisiting this story over the next few weeks, because I’m rooting for the Argus, and I hope they use this opportunity to continue to interrogate the racial dynamics of collegiate journalism that make for circumstances such as these. This type of theft is more than twice as common as theft related to content deemed offensive to conservative sensibilities — these included a sex-themed issue of a paper at a private Christian college and a front-page photograph of women kissing.

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