May 012012
 
Authors: Colleen Canty

During its 120 years, the Collegian has landed itself in some pretty hot water, and today, one group of students will be demanding the publication face its most recent controversial content.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Lory Student Center’s flea market, English professor Deborah Dimon’s CO 300 class will display two hotly discussed pieces recently published in the Collegian on cardboard cutouts for the entire community to see.

The two articles, one a column titled “Screwing racism, literally” and the other, a response to “The Drunken Scholar: Wisdom from the RamSkeller,” led junior English major Brandon Trujillo to propose this call to action in lieu of a final paper for the class on writing arguments.

Banners re-posing the question originally answered in the Drunken Scholar piece: “If you were a woman for a day, what would you do first?” will be present for passers-by to sign with their name and response, and the group will give out surveys to gauge the community’s opinion.

Participants are also encouraged to comment on what they would prefer to see covered in the publication.

According to Trujillo, the goal of the assembly is to direct public attention to how media shapes the culture of a community, particularly because he isn’t too happy with how recent articles have been representing CSU.

“The language the Collegian chooses to use represents the CSU community as a whole, not just the few publishers, editors and writers that makes up its staff,” Trujillo wrote on the group’s Facebook event page with more than 700 invited users called “Misrepresentation in The Collegian.”

“These articles use language that have made some people in the CSU community feel both marginalized and personally offended,” he wrote.

The class doesn’t wish to “berate the Collegian,” Trujillo assured, but instead hopes to generate constructive criticism the paper can use to better itself.

The “double-edged sword,” as Trujillo put it, is drawing the line between hate speech and political speech; the paper and its columnists are protected by the First Amendment, after all.

“It’s nice to respect freedom of speech, but the more these articles are published, the more the public thinks and acts like this,” Trujillo said. “We can’t limit that freedom, but we can be responsible with our language.”

According to Curtis Hubbard, the Editorial Page Editor at The Denver Post, publishing potentially controversial editorials can be a “dicey” area for an opinion section and requires an editor to evaluate the column on its relevance, timeliness, factuality and prominence in the current community.

“It can be challenging, but generally I speak to the goal of how to publish something rather than how to keep it out of the public square,” Hubbard said. “I might edit out a section or send something back to the columnist for reworking, but I prefer to have the fight on the front end rather than the back end.”

Even voices of extreme opposition to the ideas and language brought up in the “Screwing racism, literally” column acknowledge the danger of censorship and the need for open expression, regardless of how unpopular that expression may be.

“The columnist’s experiences are that of one individual, and the problem in our culture with intolerance involves institutionalized practices discriminating and promoting hatred toward groups of people,” said Donna Rouner, a CSU journalism professor specializing in the study of multiculturalism and the media. “Multicultural views would argue to allow all types of voices to be heard, even irresponsible ones. I go with the Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’s view that ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant.’”

“The fact the paper is airing these issues is a strong value we in a free society promote and believe in; student press is one of the few places where you can see this happen,” Rouner added.

Associated Students of CSU president Eric Berlinberg expressed disappointment in the paper’s decision to exercise its freedom of speech in this particular case.

“As a customer of Rocky Mountain Social Media, we (ASCSU) expected a higher level of writing and integrity; this column was 180 degrees in the opposite direction of what the CSU culture and community stands for,” Berlinberg said.

While contention clearly abounds between those who advocate for responsible editorializing and complete freedom of expression, Trujillo said he wished to impress upon the paper the respect with which he regards its work.

“We don’t expect the paper to be perfect; that’s an absurd expectation to have of a student-run organization,” he said. “The goal in all this is not to win or even attack a specific piece –– we just want the Collegian to recognize that they’re writing for that bigger voice and community.”

The class will be summarizing the results of the project, including an overview of their suggestions for how the paper can better represent the university.

Berlinberg said he is satisfied with the steps the paper and its leaders have taken toward recognition of what he considered a mistake. In the future, the paper will also be implementing preemptive strategies to better train its staff in how to approach issues involving sensitive subjects such as race.

RMSMC must do a better job of education and training about a wide variety of issues, including a sensitivity to and an awareness of diversity, creating a welcoming campus environment and opinion writing that seemingly advocates self-destructive behaviors,” said Larry Steward, president of Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, in an email to Berlinberg last week.

“Since the offending materials involve opinion, our most cherished form of personal expression, I’m firmly convinced that education and training to help shape awareness and sensitivity are superior to imposing prior restraint or censorship on student opinions in the student newspaper … even though the freedom to speak will, from time to time, result in unpopular speech that I and others may find repugnant, irresponsible, ignorant, and inappropriate,” Steward said.

Collegian writer Colleen Canty can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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