Melanie Perez, editor-in-chief
The SGA executive (e-board) requested a meeting with the editorial board of The Equinox regarding my March 2 editorial entitled “School Spirit Scarcity.” The meeting was held on Friday, March 25.
The only person attending for the SGA was Aaron McClendon, the arts and media senator who identified himself as the “mediator” between SGA and The Equinox.
According to inperson comments from a few SGA senators, the meeting was called to address two concerns: alleged “breach of contract,” and, in the words of McClendon, “the use of the student newspaper to speak about other student organizations.”
At the meeting, McClendon said he was speaking on behalf of Student Life Director Jessica (Harris) O’Brien, who had provided him with a hand-written list of her concerns. She also provided McClendon with a copy of the editorial on which she had highlighted items that she considered to be problematic.
For example, she highlighted, “that the average student can attend Greek events or events by specific cultural or ethnic groups.”
Her objection here is unclear.
Perhaps she interpreted it as, “the average student CANNOT attend Greek events or events by specific cultural or ethnic groups.”
An issue that continually is raised in meetings such as these, including those with members of the administration, is the notion of “advanced copies,” “consultations,” “review” and the like.
University officials insist that they are not trying to censor The Equinox or restrict free speech. But the meeting with McClendon conveyed the desire of the director of Student Life to influence the content of the newspaper.
“She [O’Brien] does make a request, well a suggestion,” McClendon said in the meeting, “that in the future when you’re talking about Student Life that you can, maybe not ‘consult’ per se, but talk to her about it if you’re going to make a commentary about student life, events on campus, before publishing something that would create a perception of Student Life or how student organizations operate.”
Our answer comes straight from The Equinox’s constitution: “The Equinox’ shall be free of censorship and advance approval of copy. Editors and managers shall be free to develop their own editorial policies and policies regarding news coverage.”
McClendon again cited O’Brien to criticize The Equinox.
“Jessica Harris said that in comparison to those other schools [larger universities], we have school spirit, but a different kind of school spirit because we don’t have a football team,” McClendon said. “It’s not really built around athletics, per se. She pointed out that we do have pep rallies in the form of ‘Wig Out for Wagner,’ with one of the highest turnouts for athletic events in recent university history, I think she said.”
The SGA sponsors Sprit Day, McClendon said, which facilitates student involvement on campus, and that organizations host tables at games and in the SUB lobby.
O’Brien, as well as some members of the Nubian Ladies [club] also expressed concern about my editorial referencing student perception of the exclusivity of certain events.
“The only really ‘exclusive’ meetings that she [O’Brien] wanted me to point out are Greek sororityfraternity chapter meetings,” McClendon said. “Everyone else has a constitutional requirement to stay within a very inclusive sphere of influence.”
Since many of the issues with my editorial concerned my actual opinion on the school spirit of FDU, my response also comes direct from our constitution.
“‘Fair play’ and equal coverage of opposing viewpoints shall be the basis for all opinion pieces. Editorials shall be clearly labeled as ‘opinion’ and shall be separated from the news.”
We did just that. “Fair play” does not mean that we are obligated to strictly write positive things about the school. It does mean that we have an obligation to be respectful, not write anything of a libelous nature, and not print things in profane manner.
At the end of the day, it seems that the director of Student Life has a problem with a free student press.
“That’s probably where most of the gripe comes from: the idea that you, as the editorin-chief, also wrote this article,” McClendon said. “It might have come across as a position of authority.”
Actually, it is. I am the editor-in-chief of the FDU student newspaper, The Equinox, and as editor, I have the right to speak my mind, free from prior restraint or censorship by any university official who might not agree with my viewpoint.
It was very evident from the content of the meeting that O’Brien, as well as some student leaders, did not agree with my opinion on student life. We print corrections when there are errors of fact, not when people disagree with our opinions.
One of the points on O’Brien’s handwritten list was that student organizations are not “required” to have events. She did not elaborate on this point in her list, but in an informal discussion with a member of the SGA, it was made clear to me that student organizations that receive full funding from the SGA are required to have events.
McClendon said that O’Brien mentioned that Student Life’s online calendar, once more people start using it, would be a more accurate representation of the student life on campus and that students can use it to catch up on what’s happening on campus.
“She [O’Brien] recommends that we watch the commercial on the Facebook page about Student Life activity on campus because that shows a nice little microcosm of how student life is,” McClendon said.
McClendon made sure he conveyed O’Brien’s message.
“Jessica Harris also wants me to point out that she is more than happy to meet with anyone who would like to talk about it,” he said. “Especially prior to publication of anything that talks about school spirit or student life on campus.”
The Equinox has no contract with Student Life or the SGA, and is funded by University College and advertising revenue.
“As far as I know, you aren’t even technically a student organization,” McClendon said. “Apparently there are still some agreements that have to be met – some things that need to be clarified – especially since it seems like there was absolutely no awareness of this since this is a completely new arrangement.”
The Equinox has been funded under the University College budget since July 1, 2016.