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Southern, Censorship and Student News

 

    On Thursday, March 30, Southern Adventist University’s (SAU) student newspaper, The Southern Accent, published an early April Fools paper. Whether it was better than The Student Movement’s is hard to say, since according to The Accent’s Facebook page, by 4 p.m. of that day all of the papers had been confiscated by SAU administration. According to the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, Sierra Emilaire (junior, English, pre-law), the writing staff were not informed of the confiscation until it was happening.

 

    What incited the incident was an article about a religious studies major secretly pastoring a made-up church near Spring Meadows SDA Church in Florida (though the church was never named, a photo of the actual church in Spring Meadows was). Though the article was apparently written without malice, in good humor, and had the consent of the character in the story, this apparently offended another student. Upon reading the article, the offended student called the Spring Meadows SDA Church and demanded they do something about being “misrepresented.” The same student then got permission from the SAU President and then confiscated all the papers with presidential approval. Questionable? Based on what we have been able to find out, it certainly seems so. And while The Accent has stated that more clarification will be coming on their part, this much we know so far:

1. SAU’s student newspaper published an article with the consent of a student, about a made-up church that (by its photo) referenced a real church.

2. The papers were confiscated by a single offended student with administration approval on the day of release.

3. The Accent staff was not told about the complaint, the offended party, or the confiscation of its newspapers until the removal of the issue from newsstands occurred.

    This action of “playing it safe” and favoring the thoughts of a loud student over groups of others—both the staff of the student newspaper and its campus-wide readers—seems both petty and ill-advised. The offended student threw away Matthew 18’s process of problem-solving in favor of pretending to be a crusader. However, these events do bring up the important topic of censorship.

A lot of student newspapers, especially in the Seventh-day Adventist church, are sponsored by their own schools, not funded by advertising like a regular newspaper would be. This raises the question: should school administrations regulate their student publications?

    On one hand, the argument for censorship could be mutually beneficial for all sides involved. Student publications don’t have to be completely combed over by school administration; they just need to be aware that the school reserves the right to pull sensitive issues. Closer monitoring could protect student works from opponents outside the school which might want to attack the press. After all, what’s more formidable: a student newspaper or a giant school? When trouble arises, sometimes it’s nice to have Big Brother on your side, and since most student newspapers (and writers) at Adventist institutions are paid for by the school, it makes sense for a student newspaper to go along with the will of the institution it represents.

    On the other hand, there are arguments in favor of making sure students have a major voice in deciding what goes into the paper.

According to SAU student Phillip Pritchett (senior, foreign studies), “Universities are microcosms of adult life. People need to be able to speak their mind, have constructive dialogue, and learn speech has consequences. That can't happen with ‘father knows best’ censorship.”

Emilaire said, “I understand that the university, especially as a private institution, legally has the ability to pull our papers because they subsidize us, but I don't think that it's appropriate to exercise that power especially without contacting the newspaper staff prior. Censorship at a private university is always about keeping the face of the university clean-cut. Newspapers are seen as PR, not news; they're seen as marketing tools to retain students, but especially to attract students, so anything that isn't happy-go-lucky-looking is either pulled or we’re given such a hard time that we barely have the tools to write about real problems on campus.”     

Though writing for an institutional student newspaper might not be entirely like the “real world,” that doesn’t mean that reporting should be replaced with PR material. People may get offended, but in the “real world,” American presses have been able to write what they wanted since 1789. If student news is going to be taken seriously, it should be able to fight or apologize for itself.

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