Last night’s YSA forum, entitled “Why Are CCSU Students Being Censored?”, went great! Thanks to those who showed up–it’s always a great experience to be able to talk with students. And, as I’ve already been asked, I’ve posted my portion of the talk. It’s a longer read–10 pages or so–but it gives a great angle to this issue that I haven’t had a chance to cover yet.
On April 15, nearly every serious student leader got together in this hall in front of members of the media at a press conference built by the Youth for Socialist Action. For the first time in memory, the dozen-or-so groups on campus that honestly reflect the needs of the marginalized layers of students came together in defense of their rights.
I couldn’t have been more impressed with those students, or honored by their presence. This outpour of student support was in response to the latest decision made by the Recorder in an effort to ignore mass groups of students on campus, and censor anyone whose political views don’t mirror those of the Editor-in-Chief’s. Because although our student activities fees fund the Recorder, as well as every club on campus, the newspaper has adopted a policy that institutionalizes discrimination—and on March 10, 2009, Editor-in-Chief Melissa Traynor took it upon herself to fire me for my leadership within the YSA. I say this because when all of these fantastic student leaders came into this room just two weeks ago, they spoke in my defense. Today, I’d like to speak in theirs.
My story with the Recorder has less to do with my work for the paper, it seems, than my work on and around campus—even by the paper’s own admission, my tenure as Opinion Editor was fairly eventless, and totally without scandal.
The story starts when I met the Youth for Socialist Action heading on a bus to Cleveland, of all places, last summer. I had always considered myself political, but only in the sense that I cared about an end to the wars in the Middle East, racial & sexual equality, better working conditions for all, less artistic censorship—things all the students that have surrounded this campaign care about. Things most students at this university seem to care about. I had started a Gay Straight Alliance at my high school, signed a few petitions, but until that bus ride to the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations, I hadn’t ever really had the chance to get involved with a real organization like the YSA.
That summer, my view of what “politics” were exploded. I realized that talking about the GOP’s latest scandal or victory of the 2006 Democratic majority wasn’t what really mattered to students like me—politics, for the first time, meant taking action to defend our rights ourselves. It meant going to Cleveland for the National Assembly and creating our own anti-war congress; it meant mobilizing immigrant workers for a May Day national strike, or flooding the streets in defense of the Palestinian people. It meant taking action, and talking about what mattered to us.
Upon my return to Connecticut with the Youth for Socialist Action, I joined a political study group, began going to forums, agreed to become the next treasurer for the YSA, and looked forward to starting the fall semester with the Recorder. By this point, I had been working for the paper for nearly a year, and had already been offered four different editor positions at the paper, eventually settling on stewardship over the Opinion section. I couldn’t imagine a better way to combine my passion for writing with my newfound love for politics.
But just as the September rolled in and I met with the Recorder for the first time as their new Opinion Editor, I was presented with a few documents I was told to vaguely comply with, including the paper’s now-infamous so-called Code of Ethics. In it, former editor Mark Rowan states that “Editors of The Recorder shall not participate in any form of student, local or national government and should be free of any ties to any political organization, campus-based or otherwise.”
I was terrified. I had begun working as a freelance journalist in high school, dedicating myself to the paper, and even changed my major so I could start on what I believe was a career that would combine my need to continue my work in politics and my love for language. Would the student paper actually ask this of me?
No, they said, they wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be a conflict. Last September, the Editor-in-Chief and paper’s advisor both sat down with me, one-on-one, and told me that I had nothing to fear. I could keep my politics, and keep my job. Just don’t wave any red flags or write about any of the events you’re building, and it wouldn’t be a problem. So, with that, I became the Opinion Editor of the Central Recorder.
My time with the Recorder passed rather quickly. I wrote a few pieces on the election, immigration, the working class, some arts coverage—nothing revolutionary, by any account. I did my job, and I did it well. Even they admitted it.
Meanwhile, my ascension as a student organizer engulfed me. I started working with the Progressive Student Alliance and CT Students Against the War; we had serious political disagreements at times, but together, we threw ourselves into building state-wide anti-war rallies in October. I had never organized an event before, and what they taught me about working with students was priceless. Since, they’ve become some of my closest allies on campus.
I met Aaron McAuliffe, Vice President of Pride, and we spent hours posting up fliers for a December anti-war march talking about how economics affect the queer community. Barely afterwards, I worked with the Africana Student Organization, and was given an instant education on the prison industrial complex, Black Panthers, and racism in the courts.
And this was just on-campus. Off campus I had begun speaking at events, soaking up every single piece of history I could, and brought what had quickly become my fight for human rights into every other aspect of my life.
The semester flew by, and I honestly hadn’t noticed how seriously I had dedicated myself to work like this. The real point of consciousness for myself, as well as the Recorder, was when Gaza was invaded earlier this year. In 24 days, the US-backed Israeli army wounded over 5,300 Palestinian people and killed over 1,300, including 417 children. Over the course of January, what we needed to do seemed obvious—almost instinctual—to me.
I had already established myself as a socialist because of the work I had seen the YSA do, and as such had come to the realization that people worldwide had to end Palestinian genocide themselves. Politicians stood by and, in Obama’s case, outright refused to speak up on the subject. So, with that, the YSA took it upon ourselves to mobilize. We built rallies, demonstrations and forums around the state; we traveled to New York and DC to march with thousands of workers, students, Jews and Arabs to demand an end to Zionist brutality. And, I think most importantly for me today, I met Ala’a—the President of the Muslim Student Association, through a mutual friend.
The unity the world showed during those weeks was fantastic. It took less than a month of international protests, strikes and direct action for the Israeli Army to retreat; because of the action of million worldwide, including our own, it was no longer politically feasible for them to continue ravaging the Gaza strip. Those of us who were portrayed by the media as an idealistic minority forced one of the strongest armies in the world to back down. That, in itself, was a realization that is today, more than ever, relevant to all of the students here.
But winter break ended as it seems to every year, and once again I found myself in the Recorder office just before the semester began to start planning our first issue.
At the end of our welcome-back training session, however, I was taken aside by the Traynor, as well as her Managing Editor, to discuss the upcoming semester. I sat down, they closed the door, and I was almost instantly told point blank—as an editor of the Recorder, my work with other students groups was a “conflict of interest.” They had seen my name on fliers around campus and they had found out I traveled the country to fight for what I believed for. In their words, this was “unacceptable.”
According to the Recorder, my dedication to ending a war that has cost million of lives; my involvement in a forum the YSA held about an innocent black man on death row; my association with Pride activists; and my refusal to abandon critical social movements to better the lives of every student on this campus would mean my termination.
The first time such a possibility was brought up—before I had officially joined the Recorder staff last August—I had legitimately weighed out my options: continue with the YSA, or write for what I believed was a student paper. This time, however, I understood that it was no longer a choice; I would—and will—refuse to abandon my beliefs at any cost. I went promptly to the paper’s advisors, and began a two-month-long back-and-forth with the editors. They took back their ultimatum, and I began talking more to the Muslim Student Association; they began censoring me, so I built events with even more vigor; and when they fired me, I dedicated myself to abolishing their self-inflicted censorship.
By now, everyone seems to already know what the Recorder did. I was locked out of the office, refused due process, and attacked me within their pages. I’ve told this story ad nausea. For this and other reasons, I don’t want to focus on what the paper did for too much longer. Our school newspaper is composed of out-of-touch journalism students that can’t see past their office windows, and any changes that will happen to the paper will not come from those students or their department. It will come from the students here.
So what is it about these students? Why have I spent so much of this campaign focusing on them, asking for their advice and help?
At best, the Recorder has refused to cover events the Africana Student Organization has held, or accurately report the problems Pride or the Veterans Affairs Organization have had. At best, they have ignored the fact that there is even an Indigenous Peoples Club on campus. At best, they have created a newspaper that is a training ground for the journalism department and a self-centered resume builder.
And at worse, the policy that was used in order to justify my firing is inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, and discriminatory. Students, according to the paper, may not take political positions. This is the model the New York Times, a for-profit corporation that must first and foremost protect its profits, had adopted. But what about when those political positions are in our own self-defense? Would the Recorder still opt to side with a corporate business model over the needs of the students it supposedly represents?
What if a black male editor became the victim of police brutality—could he not speak up in his own defense, or the defense of his community? Exposing the racism in law enforcement or courts is, of course, a political stance.
In a more personal example, two Caucasian students on campus recently attacked a Latino student, beating him, spitting on him, and calling him a “spic.” My replacement then published a series of articles claiming “the problem lies in the fact that a student was assaulted, not in the fact that the victim is Latino,” without reporting any of the facts. If a Latino student had been on the editorial board and publicly campaigned against the article’s author, could he or she be fired for defending the battered student?
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students on this campus had to fight for decades in order to even be able to openly talk about their sexuality—it was only after speaking with Pride members that I learned that their club’s first meetings were held in secret out of fear. The queer community often uses the phrase “silence = death.” And, in not only their case but that of every discriminated-against student, it is true.
The students on the front lines of this fight are the ones who are being targeted not only by the right wing, but also by their own student newspaper. It is insane to think that the generations before us—blacks, women, the working class—had to fight in order to receive an education at a college like this. And yet, here we are today, defending our ability to speak and assemble at our own school. It is because of this that, through and through, action taken against the Recorder will be a student-led fight.
But in order to understand why the Recorder has adopted a policy that excludes all of these students from its paper, we need to examine why the paper has defended the Code of Ethics —their sacred .pdf file that cannot be touched, even by the First Amendment or Affirmative Action.
Of course, there is simply the editors’ own politics. They fail to see the necessity for a culturally diverse paper, or even the cultural diversity on campus. They view the Recorder as their personal training ground, and not the voice of the students. It doesn’t seem as if any of the editors have left the office long enough to interview any of the amazing women from the Muslim Student Association about hijabs, or talk to Jim Windeagle about Native pride.
But, as we have seen throughout this campaign, the decision to exclude marginalized students is not only coming in from the Recorder, but from university professors, officials, and bodies even higher up. And, of course, there is the fact that the for-profit media defends these ideals with every resource they have. What could they possibly gain by excluding news relevant to Latino workers, Muslim women, same-sex parents or socialist students?
All of these groups, on or off campus, have the same basic needs—self-determination for their people, safe spaces to work and live, fulfillment of basic human needs, and equal rights. Because of these basic truths, I have stayed away from using the word “minority” while describing any of the students engaged in this struggle. Although the Latino or female students involved have probably been labeled as minorities by the status quo, as they have been for years, we are by no stretch of the imagination in some small group on campus. In fact, it is the exact opposite.
The Recorder staff is possibly in the smallest minority on campus. Traynor’s notion, as expressed in an interview with The40YearPlan.com, is that the majority working class students at CCSU, many of whom are newly unemployed or facing job loss due to budget cuts have no interest in the issues facing labor, have on interest in what I’ve fought for—ie: the needs I’ve just mentioned. This is nothing but a demonstration of her isolation from the mainstream of student life.
While some students and their families at CCSU work as managers, the great majority work as hourly workers and must concern themselves with all things that affect their ability to earn a livelihood, pay rising tuition costs, and taxes. Does she really believe working-class politics don’t affect nearly everyone in this room?
Many of these same students must struggle with the question of whether or not to enlist in the military in order to pay for an education and are; many, including myself, have family or friends that have decided to join the armed forces for just this reason. And as a state school, CCSU has a massive veterans population. How can these students not be invested in the outcome of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, as well as that of the anti-war movement?
Is Traynor aware of the recent Rasmussen poll that found that adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided in their political views with 37% saying that they prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% undecided? Or, more tangibly, what about the masses of black, Latino, Arab and queer students that walk around on campus every day?
We are not a minority in who we are or what we care about, but only in a sense that we have become the first students take a step toward fighting for our needs. And even then, the student clubs that have banned together have more power in this university than any of us can even imagine. We can force the Recorder concede by creating so much noise around this issue that they can’t keep the press out of their office. We can make it politically impossible for the administration to defend its refusal to support students, and force them to acknowledge all of our problems, starting here. We can use that to drive a wedge between the Recorder clique and the university officials who refuse to back us, and through all of these actions we can educate other students and build our clubs to expand our movement.
It is because of this that the prospect of us refusing to back down while our rights are run over by the university’s administration is terrifying. We are facing 5.6% tuition increase and a 20% slashing of funds. Students will no longer be able to do independent studies or take internships for credit, unless required for graduation. As if it weren’t hard to graduate as is! It is no coincidence our university is being gutted the same semester some of the most freethinking students on campus are being pushed into silence.
This is why the fight for the Recorder is important. If we are able to take on Student Activities and win, what’s to stop us from demanding more state funding? Students in Greece and France shut down their cities because of the collapse of capital as we know it; in the US, students have occupied NYC, New School, and University of Vermont to demand fair tuition. Together, we are seeing an opportunity for a student-lead movement that can change not only our universities, but the world.
This is why the stock-holders of the New York Times have institutionalized discrimination under the guise of “ethics,” and why it must be talked about for what it is—a tool of the ruling class that we must stop at nothing to dismantle.
The very reality of this fight is not one about a disgruntled former employee looking for her job back. If this experience has shown me anything, it is the hideousness of careerist ideals on a college campus. My reinstatement to the Recorder will mean nothing unless it is accompanied by the reinstatement of other genuine student voices, in the forms of a non-discrimination clause to the paper’s charter and legitimate democracy within its pages.
We will win this by working together, just as we have already begun. I speak for all of YSA when I say that we are amazed at how much support this issue has gotten, and for good reason. The Recorder has no idea what it has started. Out of this, we will all emerge victorious and ready for the next fight—because throughout this process, I think every student involved has quickly learned how common our interests are, and what a serious force student solidarity can be.