Debate still rages over Wesleyan Argus column after closed-door student government meeting

CONNECTICUT — After two weeks of contentious campus debate over an op-ed in the Wesleyan University Argus that criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, the fate of the newspaper remains unclear.

The opinion piece, written by student Bryan Stascavage on Sept. 14, has sparked widespread controversy, culminating in a petition that asks to defund the newspaper unless a list of demands to increase diversity on staff is met. The conflict has drawn national attention to issues of both free speech and diversity in newsrooms. But students are staying silent on the events of a town hall meeting Sunday that centered around the debate.

The meeting was held behind closed doors, with only Wesleyan students allowed inside, said Stascavage, the columnist. He said the privacy was intended to make students more comfortable speaking their minds on the issue without members of the media present, adding that the increased media attention has resulted in scrutiny on Wesleyan’s campus.

But Stascavage said student government members did not yet consider the petition to defund the newspaper.

“The big takeaway was that the can was kicked down the road,” Stascavage said in an interview. “Instead, the conversation revolved more around equity and inclusion and diversity, and the actual petition with the explicit demands wasn’t really discussed.”

He said student government members want to allow more time to discuss the petition, and no resolutions have made it to the table yet. The WSA Senate will meet next Sunday to discuss matters further. The Argus’ editors did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Student activists posted an open letter on the Facebook page of The Ankh magazine, which is aimed at and produced by students of color, blasting the predominantly-white newspaper staff and Wesleyan administrators for framing the controversy as a free-speech issue.

“Let us be clear: this is not an issue of your free speech,” said the letter, which is signed by “A Group of Concerned and Unapologetic Students of Color.” “This is an issue of our voices being silenced, our communities under attack. Free speech is not a one-dimensional highway — white, cisgender, heterosexual men are not the only ones with the right to free speech.”

Michael Koretzky, head of region 3 of the Society of Professional Journalists, offered to raise money for an alternative publication for Black Lives Matter activists at Wesleyan in a blog post, but so far, he hasn’t received any responses.

“It was a sincere offer,” Koretzky said. “Instead of complaining to shut something down, they could direct that energy into producing their own media.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Tara Jeffries at 202-974-6317 or by email.