Censorship-fighters from Wis., Pa., recognized with 'Courage in Student Journalism' award



Frank LoMonte, Executive Director, Student Press Law Center

703.807.1904 / director@splc.org

Student newspaper editors from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania who waged nationally publicized battles against school retaliation for journalism addressing issues of social concern are the winners of the 2014 Courage in Student Journalism Award.

Tanvi Kumar, former editor-in-chief of Cardinal Columns at Wisconsin’s Fond du Lac High School and co-editors Gillian McGoldrick and Reed Hennessy of The Playwickian at Pennsylvania’s Neshaminy High School will share the Courage award, presented annually to recognize students who show exceptional fortitude in overcoming adversity to bring important stories to the public.

The award was presented Saturday at the awards ceremony at the National High School Journalism Convention in Washington, D.C., before an audience of more than 2,000 students and teachers from around the country.

Kumar and her staff were punished after publishing an in-depth news article, “The Rape Joke,” that included interviews with survivors of sexual assault talking about the impact of insensitive humor about rape. After their newspaper was placed under a regime of heavy administrative censorship in retaliation for the article, the student body and members of the community protested so vehemently that the retaliatory publications policy was repealed.

McGoldrick and Hennessy led their staff in voting to withhold the school mascot name “Redskins” from the student newspaper, believing it to be a racial slur – a position later adopted by their professional community newspaper as well. In retaliation, the school board imposed an unlawful policy rescinding all of the staff’s free-speech rights in student publications and on social media. After the students resisted their principal’s edict to print, unedited, a letter-to-the-editor containing the mascot name, their adviser was suspended, McGoldrick was temporarily removed as editor, and the newspaper was “fined” $1,200. (The fine was replaced more than fivefold by an online crowdfunding campaign mounted by supportive high school journalists in California.)

The Courage award is sponsored by the Student Press Law Center, the National Scholastic Press Association and the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University, which provides funding for each winner to receive a $1,000 cash prize.

“Student journalists are increasingly taking a role of national leadership in raising and advancing the discussion of issues of social concern. These students’ outstanding work exemplifies the power of candid student journalism to make positive change,” said SPLC Executive Director Frank D. LoMonte. “To borrow a phrase from programmers, the fact that these students’ work makes authority figures uncomfortable is ‘not a bug – it’s a feature.’ We should value and nurture journalism that bravely challenges accepted majority views and speaks for the voiceless. That’s what Tanvi, Gillian and Reed did so eloquently, and that’s why they so richly deserve this recognition.”

LoMonte said the honor recognizes the entire journalism staffs at Fond du Lac and Neshaminy, especially faculty advisers Matthew Smith of Fond du Lac and Tara Huber of Neshaminy, who stood behind their students at great personal risk.

“The fact that a 17-year-old was just named a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize should remind us all of the tremendous impact that young people can have on the world they live in,” said Mark Goodman, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “It is a great honor for the Center for Scholastic Journalism to be the financial sponsor of this award recognizing such courageous and exemplary student journalists.”

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been devoted to educating high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment, and supporting the student news media in covering important issues free from censorship. The Center provides free information and educational materials for student journalists and their teachers on a wide variety of legal topics on its website at www.splc.org.