Our purpose as journalists is to inform our readers, viewers and listeners. Some of the subjects we report on are controversial and require great sensitivity. We try not to make rash decisions. Whatever decisions we make, we must have strong reasoning to support them.
A few weeks ago, one of our columnists, Beth Rankin, wrote a piece about her experiences at events sponsored or co-sponsored by Black United Students. Our Web site, KentNewsNet.com, quickly began to accumulate comments on her column. Some were supportive of her points, others were in strong opposition. Some told moving stories; others shared disturbing prejudices. It was a revealing dialogue.
BUS focused one of its mass meetings on her column. People had a chance to talk openly about their feelings. They had a chance to talk directly to BUS leadership, the Stater editorial board and Beth. It was, we feel, a good start.
Then something we didn’t expect happened. Someone posted her column on a white supremacist message board. The readers of that message board began their own conversation about Beth and the column. They started to post comments on our Web site soon after.
What they wrote were horrible, disgusting and racists messages. They used words that are inflammatory, full of racial hatred. Instead of progressing the discussion going on, they halted it. Readers were shocked by both the content of their speech and the fact that we allowed it to remain on the Web site.
That was by no means an easy decision. Immediately after the comments started coming in on the column, the leaders of Student Media met. We looked to our faculty for advice — journalistically, ethically and legally. After coming up with options ranging from keeping them all to shutting comments down completely, we felt it would be hypocritical to ask for an open discussion and then stop it as soon as someone said something we didn’t like.
Make no mistake, we found the racist comments on that column incredibly offensive. We also saw a learning opportunity. Black students already knew people like these white supremacists existed. They are only too familiar with racism, both blatant and subtle. White students, who make up the majority of the racial population of the student body, at best, knew of some of this hatred. These comments should open their eyes.
Numerous people have asked us to remove these comments. Regular students, members of BUS’s executive board, readers in general have asked or demanded this in several ways. Someone even threatened to, and apparently went through with, contact the university administration, asking them to do something about this.
Administrators contacted James Gaudino, dean of the College of Communication of Information, and Jeff Fruit, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Both told administrators the same thing: Talk to the editors.
Finally, we received a phone call from Vice Provost of Diversity Steve Michael. He offered some words of advice and offered his assistance in an upcoming decision on the comments. In other words, it was our responsibility. The reason behind this is our editorial decisions are independent from university by policy and by law. The school has no say over what we print, post or broadcast.
We think it’s great the university wants to get involved. However, we are not the problem nor the solution. What we do with the comments should not be the focus of the administration. This student body is uncomfortable with race, and the university needs to help. We are the conduit, not the end result. Other than trying to get us to remove the comments, the administration has been fairly silent in this conversation. Some, like Michael, have participated. The majority has not. Please, get involved. You owe it to your students.
The leaders of Student Media met again Friday to discuss the comments again without university administrators. We talked about our options regarding comments. We brainstormed different ways to move the discussion about race forward. We also talked about a response to the column BUS’s executive board wrote for publication (which is printed below), and what to do with comments on that.
In the end, we’ve decided to leave the comments open, at least until the end of the semester. This may prove to be unpopular, but we feel it necessary to show just what everyone in favor of racial unity is up against.
We want to move forward in this campus-wide discussion. We must focus on a new topic, one that will help us make progress. To do that, we need your help. Let us know what you want to see happen.
This is your campus. It’s up to you what you do with it.
The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.