Student threatened with ISIS-style execution after paper publishes 'white student union' rant

"Pirate Rants" runs regularly in "The East Carolinian," ECU's official newspaper.

One rant wondered why there wasn't a "White Student Union," and the author complained they felt underrepresented.

Students at East Carolina University (ECU) offended by an anonymous op-ed in the school newspaper requesting a “White Student Union,” have called for the beheading of the paper’s editor-in-chief by ISIS.

Pirate Rants” is a regular opinion column in The East Carolinian (TEC), ECU’s official newspaper, where students can express their "views, opinions and frustrations." They consist of blurbs a few sentences in length.

Jessica Richmond, the editor-in-chief of the paper, has received numerous threats, including a call for her execution by ISIS terrorists, since she published one rant on Sep. 26, which read: “Will someone explain to me why there is no ‘White Student Union?’...I feel underrepresented.”

“By the following morning I had received hundreds of emails condemning me for publishing the rant,” Richmond told Campus Reform. “These included death threats sent [to] my iPhone.”

Richmond told Campus Reform the editorial staff decided to remove the column from the website until the issue blew over.

In a response to the column, Micah Lockhart, a senator in ECU’s Student Government Association (SGA) wrote a letter to the editor declaring “that [SGA] won’t sleep until this issue is address (sic) and TEC is held accountable for publishing and providing a platform, therefore promoting, hate speech that is in direct opposition to the morals of this university.”

Despite death threats and harsh criticisms from campus groups, Richmond stands by her decision to run the column, and told one local news station that her “publishing it was giving a voice to someone that their opinion is valid."

“I do stand by my publishing of the rant. It was a student's opinion and to silence their opinion would be to metaphorically silence them all,” Richmond told Campus Reform in an email. “I will continue to protect free speech on this campus. To prove it, I have published every letter to the editor that I have received, both positive and negative.”

Some ECU students believed the column was racist and an attack on the school’s Black Student Union, a charge that Richmond denies.

“I would like to address the accusations of racism that were laid upon my staff and myself. The role of a newspaper is to deliver the truth about the world around us to our readers,” Richmond wrote in an 800 word response to her critics. “We do not create news, we report on it. A journalist’s first priority is and should be to be as unbiased as possible when reporting a story. The Pirate Rants, however, are not our work, nor do they reflect the views of the staff of this newspaper.”

Sophomore Alex Prunka defended Richmond in a sarcastic letter to the editor a few days after the incident.

“The speech presented in the Pirate Rant is offensive, not hateful,” wrote Prunka. “Had the speech been hateful, had it advocated for the disenfranchisement of any individual or group based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc….why hate our campus newspaper for doing its job? It is clear that our society simply does not need free speech anymore.”

The Black Student Union and SGA hosted a panel to discuss the issues addressed in the “Pirate Rant” column and the “possible underrepresentation” of some students on campus.

"A lot of minority parties did not understand what TEC meant by the First Amendment rules and how they cannot censor those things,” Black Student Union President Tyler Morrison told WNCT. “I also feel that TEC may not have not understood how comments like that make minorities or women or anyone a rant is about, feel."

Following the uproar, Richmond and TEC staff contemplated removing “Pirate Rants.” According to the Huffington Post, the blurbs are “submitted anonymously, subsequently appearing online and in print without outside vetting or editing (except for profanity and libel).”

“I also left the question of whether or not pirate rants should continue…[readers] voted 90% to 10% in favor of keeping the rants (with over 300 people voting),” Richmond told Campus Reform.

ECU has not issued an official response to the incident as the university says it tries not to get involved in the affairs of students groups.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @MaggieLitCRO