Will Black Lives Matter Be a Movement That Persuades?

25 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

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. So it is surprising to many that the school is now embroiled in a contentious censorship battle as some students demand that the century-old newspaper be shut down.

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.

During a Sunday night forum held by the university’s student government body, the Wesleyan Student Assembly, a petition was introduced to boycott and revoke funding of the 147-year-old paper. 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 . 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.

Additionally, “various members of the student of color community did spontaneously come into The Argus office last week in the middle of production to voice their opinions and also listed further ‘demands’ that they had for us as a staff.” On the other hand, another group of students students have set up a Facebook page to support the Argus and the notion of free press. “Moving forward, I would love for [the paper’s detractors] to realize that we do share a lot of the same goals, and it would be great for us to collaborate to achieve those things,” Laermer added. Students who objected created a petition now being weighed by the student government, which states that The Argus has failed historically to be inclusive of minorities’ voices and demands that copies of the paper on campus be recycled. 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.

The petitioners also want diversity training for all student publications, and argue that funding should be withheld until their requirements are met. 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. Recommended: Take Action:Reach out to organizations and individuals dealing with literacy, school funding, bullying, technology, social media, and other classroom issues.

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. 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. 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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