I never thought I would last this long – to the last week of
classes as the opinion editor of The Rocky Mountain Collegian. Not
after my first couple of weeks on the job.
On Sept. 15, an opinion columnist wrote a column titled, “Where
is my minority group,” portraying his sentiments about minority and
religious advocacy student organizations on campus and about
affirmative action and himself, being a straight, non-religious
Caucasian male, going up against minorities and women in job
interviews. I read the column, knowing that it might offend some
students, but it went through me and other editors and made the
next day’s paper.
As expected, it offended people, particularly a female student
from Black Student Services. She felt compelled to write a letter
to the editor and a personal letter to the columnist.
The following Wednesday, I found myself along with another
editor, sitting through an Associated Students of CSU Senate
meeting with aggravated students who were upset with the columnist.
They were upset with his column but what prompted the discussion
was his personal response to the female student who wrote him. I
won’t go into detail what he wrote, but trust me, he degraded her
as a woman and as an African American.
People were understandably upset. I was upset at my columnist’s
actions and at the fact I was sitting in an ASCSU meeting hearing
remarks about how the student government needs to censor columnists
and criticizing the Collegian for letting this column run.
The Daily Collegian at the University of Massachusetts found
itself in a similar predicament. “Pat Tillman is not a hero: He got
what was coming to him” was the headline for Rene Gonzalez’s column
at the Daily Collegian. Gonzalez wrote that the NFL football player
who died in Iraq after joining the Army Rangers, walking away from
a $3.6 million football contract, was not a hero. Gonzalez even
called him a “pedejo,” or idiot.
UMass’ Student Government Association was voting on a motion
Wednesday night asking that The Daily Collegian no longer receive
direct financial contribution from SGA, essentially making the
student newspaper financially independent. The motion was made
after the Tillman column.
The situation asks what kind of relationship a student
government has with a student newspaper that receives student fees
directly, or indirectly, from the student government. It also asks
how offensive can a student newspaper be without alienating itself
Ferron Salniker, an editor at the Daily Collegian, said there
are underlying reasons why the student government is doing
She said some senators who agree with the motion see it as a
form of punishment for publishing the Tillman column; some senators
have an issue of making financial contributions to the newspaper
that allowed the column to be published.
Salniker also said that if the motion passes, SGA would be
violating a section of its own bylaws that states it cannot punish
or control media outlets.
So, what defense do newspapers use when they publish offensive
columns or articles?
“It’s a matter of providing campus with their voice. We
represent all students, and it’s our duty to present all sides,”
In the case of my columnist (who was excused from the Collegian
after the incident for several reasons), I personally didn’t agree
with his column, but if I started to edit columns subjectively,
based on if I agree with the argument or not, the readers wouldn’t
be able to read columns from Republicans or radical liberals or
from people who listen to Creed. But I don’t edit columns that way.
I knew, and other editors knew, that Jacob’s column would offend
some people, but we still let it ran. I am sure the editors at The
Daily Collegian knew Gonzalez’s column would offend people, but the
media have that power to run offensive material.
Would the Collegian here ever run into a situation where an
offensive column would prompt ASCSU to stop funding it? Most likely
ASCSU President-elect Katie Clausen said the student government
does not have a direct control over the Collegian’s operations. It
does oversee a small portion of the Collegian’s budget and ensures
that we provide the students with a daily newspaper, but in no way
does ASCSU or any members oversee the editorial content of the
But when offensive columns receive more criticism than
predicted, college newspapers can learn.
“We learned a great deal, to look more closely at columns and
headlines and the repercussions (or running offensive columns). We
can get more attention than expected,” Salniker said.
The issues this Collegian and The Daily Collegian encountered
are not new and they are sure to occur again. Newspapers do not
exist to be offensive, but they also do not exist to be safe.
Chris was the opinion editor for the Collegian. He is leaving
the newspaper and heading Student Media’s new magazine publishing