During the Wesleyan Student Assembly’s (WSA) open forum on Sunday, Sept. 20, members of the Senate discussed a petition calling for a boycott of The Wesleyan Argus and the revocation of its student group funding. The petition will be the focus of a WSA-sponsored town hall meeting next Sunday, Sept. 27. This petition was sparked by a controversial article published in the Opinion section of The Argus last Tuesday, critiquing certain methods of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“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 reads. “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.”
The petition, signed by 167 students, alumni, staff and one Middletown community member as of Tuesday night, further lists five demands directed at The Argus. The boycott will include disposing of copies of The Argus on campus and insisting that its funds from the WSA are withheld until the demands are met.
These demands include commitment by The Argus to create work study/course credit positions; a monthly report on allocation of funds and leadership structure; a required once-per-semester Social Justice/Diversity training for all student publications; active recruitment and advertisement; and open space on the front page in the publication dedicated to marginalized groups/voices, specifying that if no submissions are received, The Argus will print a section labeled “for your voice.”
In accordance with the boycott, organizers of the petition declined to comment further.
“On behalf of concerned Wesleyan students we are boycotting the Argus until the demands are met,” organizers of the petition wrote in an email to The Argus. “Therefore we are not available to comment or be quoted in any article published by the same newspaper that we are boycotting for supporting institutional racism.”
Paul Singley, President of the Connecticut Society for Professional Journalists, said he believes that student publications should make a concerted effort to represent the perspectives of all students, but its First Amendment rights should not be threatened by publishing unpopular views.
“That’s what a good newspaper does,” he said. “It shares ideas, it shares opinions.”
WSA President Kate Cullen ’16 and WSA Vice President Aidan Martinez ’17 commented on the matter as members of the Leadership Board.
“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.”
“We know it’s not easy,” Cullen and Martinez’s email continued. “This past spring, we initiated a complete constitutional and tonal restructuring of the WSA to elevate marginalized and historically unrepresented voices that we felt so desperately needed to be heard on campus. Through genuine and dedicated work, The Argus can make this change as well. And for this reason, Aidan and I stand in solidarity with the student of color community in their efforts to make their voices heard.”
Three WSA Senate members, including Cullen, have signed the petition as of Monday night. Currently, no official legislation to enact the demands of the petition is being processed by the Assembly.
“We have no resolutions on the floor or in the works at this time,” wrote Cullen in an email to The Argus.
The 2015 WSA Constitution is currently unavailable on the WSA website, but according to the 2013 WSA Constitution, the Student Budgetary Committee—which provides funds to The Argus every semester for printing and distribution costs—may require any organization receiving funds to report at any time, and reserves the right to reassume any funding allocated to a group before the end of the school year. The Student Budget Committee (SBC) is also constitutionally responsible for making recommendations to The Argus, among other student groups.
Tess Morgan ’16, co-Editor-in-Chief of The Argus, said that continued conversations with the student of color community, along with the suggestions of the petition, have led to new initiatives to diversify the newspaper’s staff, including SALD diversity training. However, she said, The Argus continues to have questions about the implementation of the petition demands.
“As far as work study goes, that’s something in the past we’ve had funding for, but that’s been revoked, so that’s completely up to the SBC to give us that funding,” Morgan said. “It doesn’t seem likely on their part that they’ll give it to us.”
Cullen did not respond to a request to comment on the process through which the petition might be drafted into an official WSA resolution, how the boycott would be implemented, or how the demands relating to all campus publications would affect Argus funding.
Michael Ortiz ’17, who signed the petition, explained the impetus behind his support.
“My concerns with the Argus currently regard mostly its commitment to representing the views of the campus,” he wrote in an email to The Argus. “….That the Argus chose to give this man somewhere to share his disrespectful opinion and to then have the Argus and its staff members defend the publication, hiding behind the argument of ‘well it’s not my opinion but he’s allowed to have it’ is frankly a great disappointment. The Argus’ publication of this opinion is a silent agreement with its content, and a silent agreement to the all too prevalent belief that black [and] brown people do not deserve a voice, and that we are not worthy of respect.”
Singley further addressed the trend of defunding student newspapers due to disagreement with editorial decisions.
“I think it’s a dangerous thing when you have the people that are controlling your purse strings determining what kind of opinions you’re going to allow to be shared in your publication,” he said. “You shouldn’t be second guessing whether you should publish something that you certainly have the right to just because you’re going to lose funding. That’s an unhealthy situation.”
Rebecca Brill ’16, co-Editor-in-Chief of The Argus, said that The Argus is committed to repairing its relationship with the community but that she is concerned about the precedent being set by the boycott of the newspaper.
“We would love to work with the WSA on how to achieve diversity, but editorial independence remains a huge priority for us,” Brill said. “There’s an important conversation going on right now about The Argus representing the voices of all students; it seems counterintuitive to censor the voice of a student expressing their views, offensive as they may be to some. We will continue to publish even if we are defunded. It’s our responsibility to cover news on this campus and to represent our community.”
This article was edited to reflect that the petition was influenced by an Opinion article appearing in last Tuesday’s edition of The Argus, and to reflect that the item in question is a petition, not a WSA resolution. It was further edited to update the number of signatories of the petition. A previous version of this article erroneously stated that the petition had been signed by faculty members.