CONNECTICUT — The controversy wracking Wesleyan University’s campus in response to Bryan Stascavage’s Sept. 14 Argus opinion piece criticizing Black Lives Matter has culminated in a student-government resolution to divert a bulk of the newspaper’s printing budget to work-study positions at various campus publications.
The resolution, which surfaced at the Sunday Wesleyan Student Assembly Senate meeting, would cull up to $17,000 from The Argus’ printing budget of about $30,000 and use it to fund work-study positions at the top campus publications of students’ choice, Stascavage said. The work-study positions would be aimed at increasing diversity in the campus’ student publications, which are predominantly white. The resolution could not be found online.
Creating work-study positions at the Argus was one of the student protesters’ original demands, but they also had harsher demands, including calls to defund the Argus until it met standards of diversity and inclusion. Stascavage said he worries the new resolution’s stipulations could still impose a chilling effect on opinion pieces in the paper.
“What I have not heard in any of the rhetoric from WSA or the petitioners is that if I were to write an op-ed under the (proposed) new system, whether that would get published,” he said. “That’s really concerning.”
Stascavage said some students framed the resolution as a solution for environmental sustainability — easing the environmental burden of printing copies of the newspaper.
The minutes of Sunday’s student government Senate meeting do not mention specific monetary amounts of the newspaper’s budget, though a disclaimer in the minutes states that they are not a verbatim summary of WSA meetings. According to the minutes, student leaders grappled with the issue of open meetings on the topic, with some saying transparency is key and others maintaining that allowing “outside sources” would disrupt the discussion. The student government’s initial meeting on the controversy was only open to Wesleyan students.
Co-editors-in-chief Rebecca Brill and Tess Morgan did not respond to the SPLC’s request for comment as of Wednesday morning. Student government representatives also could not be reached.
Several student protesters have voiced opposition to Stascavage’s column and advocated greater diversity at the predominantly white newspaper in recent weeks. Argus columnist Tedra James stood behind the boycott of the newspaper in an opinion piece published Tuesday.
“Here’s why: A boycott is a refusal to support an institution,” James wrote in the piece. “Those who cried, ‘Well why don’t you just write a response?’ missed that the entire point was trying to change The Argus at its core. If students of color are only encouraged to write when our lives are under attack, why should we write at all?” James declined to comment for this article.
James’ piece slammed “outside media” for what she said is a mischaracterization of the campus debate, which she said shifted the focus unfairly to free speech rather than the core issue of diversity.
The intertwined issues of free speech and a lack of diversity in the newspaper have sparked a contentious debate throughout the campus, and the saga has attracted national attention. Wesleyan’s president, provost and vice president for equity and inclusion released a statement that said students have the right to voice their own opinions — “but there is no right not to be offended … Censorship diminishes true diversity of thinking.”
But activists maintain that the issue is one of diversity, not of censorship: “Crying First Amendment is an easy way to dismiss charges against one’s speech,” activists wrote in a Tuesday opinion piece on the student blog Wesleying.org. “I hope we stop getting accused of shutting conversation down when we would just like our voices to be heard within it. I hope we stop being told to grow up. Keep talking, please, disagree, argue – but do so while affording us the respect we have asked for. Listen.”
Paul Singley, president of the Connecticut branch of the Society of Professional Journalists, said that although he isn’t familiar with the resolution, he supports the student body arriving at a compromise.
“Trying to come to some sort of middle ground seems to be the best approach,” Singley said. “You don’t want to alienate anyone on your campus of any race or religion. You also want to be receptive when there are people in the community that have an issue with the way you are reporting things. That isn’t necessarily to say that you give them editorial consent over what you publish, but you should consider what they have to say and try to be as receptive as possible.”
Singley, who has advised the Argus staff on the matter, said that students of many backgrounds should have a say in what their newspaper looks like — to a degree.
“All students are paying for this service,” he said.
Students will revisit the resolution at a town hall meeting this Sunday.
Contact SPLC staff writer Tara Jeffries at 202-974-6317 or by email.