Wesleyan campus paper boycotted for lack of inclusivity

The staff of The Wesleyan Argus had the unfortunate duty last night of reporting that the school’s student government is considering a petition to defund the publication.

The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) discussed the petition, which calls for a boycott of the paper and revocation of the funding it receives as a student organization, during an open forum Sunday, and will solicit additional input during a town hall meeting on September 27, The Argus reports.

“The undersigned agree to boycott the Argus, recognizing that the paper has historically failed to be an inclusive representation of the voices of the student body,” the petition states. “Most specifically, it neglects to provide a safe space for the voices of students of color and we are doubtful that it will in the future.”

Two separate incidents seem to have given rise to the petition’s claims: one involving allegedly insufficient coverage of a minority-student demonstration in May, and the other involving an op-ed published just a week before the WSA meeting.

In May, The Argus ran a staff editorial apologizing for its coverage of Usdan Takeover, an event organized to call attention to racial injustices in the wake of the Baltimore riots. The newspaper published a photo with a two-sentence caption describing the nature of the event, but faced criticism from two of the event’s organizers, who claimed the paper “took no measures to get any context for what took place.”

The editorial explained that the decision to run the photo without an accompanying story was simply due to the fact that the demonstration took place on the same day the paper is finalized, and rather than ignore it completely, the staff wanted to “at least show to readers that the event happened.”

Even so, the editors sought to rectify the situation by belatedly publishing a story on the demonstration, and resolved to make “coverage of student of color events, groups, and life a top priority for next semester.”

The Argus recently came under fire again, however, for a Sept. 14 op-ed by staff writer Bryan Stascavage arguing that the Black Lives Matter movement is being undermined by extremists who call for violence against police officers while claiming to speak for BLM.

Stascavage took pains to state that he sympathizes with the frustrations expressed by moderate activists, but said he cannot support the movement as a whole as long as “vilification and denigration of the police force continues to be a significant portion of Black Lives Matter’s message.”

Three days later, The Argus ran a staff editorial apologizing for the op-ed in response to a deluge of complaints from members of the student body. While defending its right to publish a variety of viewpoints without implying official endorsement, the editorial conceded that the op-ed in question suffered from “careless fact-checking,” and “was published without a counter-argument in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement alongside it.”

Going forward, the paper promised to encourage minority participation more enthusiastically, calling the effort “our top priority.” To that end, the editorial also announced that the newspaper “will be publishing a Black Out issue—an issue of The Argus written entirely by students of color—in the near future.”

The paper’s contrition failed to mollify its detractors, though, and as of Monday evening, the petition had attracted the signatures of 147 students and faculty—including three WSA Senators—calling for a complete boycott and defunding of the paper until a list of five conditions are met.

The petitioners are demanding that The Argus create work study/course credit positions, submit a monthly report on allocation of funds and leadership structure, require staff to complete “Social Justice/Diversity” training once per semester, engage in active recruitment and advertisement, and create a permanent section on its front page dedicated to “marginalized groups/voices.”

Ironically, the Sept. 21 staff editorial actually addressed the lack of minority voices by pointing out that funding cuts passed by the WSA in recent years have prevented the paper from compensating contributors and staff writers, asserting that “because editorial positions on The Argus are both unpaid and time-consuming, economic pressures affect who can devote time to the paper.”

At this point, there is no official legislation before the WSA to act on the petition, but WSA President Kate Cullen ‘16 and WSA Vice President Aidan Martinez ’17 indicated that student government may yet move forward on the issue.

“Aidan and I ran last spring on the platform of bringing equity and inclusion to the very core of the WSA and furthermore, to every part of campus,” Cullen and Martinez wrote in an email to The Argus. “In this vein, we are supportive of the push for a more equitable and inclusive Argus…. We hope that the cries for change from the students of color community will move The Argus’s leadership to action.”

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