On silence and accountability

Lakeidra Chavis/Sun Star Editor-in-Chief
Sept. 10, 2013

Last semester, complaints were filed against The Sun Star for two articles we published. The first article was a satirical piece for our annual April Fool’s issue, The Fun Star, that mocked past satires about giant penis buildings by referencing a vagina building under construction instead. The second article reported on the hateful messages being written on the UAF Confessions Facebook page. The complainant, a professor on campus, said that the articles promoted rape culture and sexual harassment.

We were then discussed by the university’s Faculty Senate and investigated by the Office of Diversity and Equal Oppurtunity.

Halfway through the summer I found out that a class I was registered in and looking forward to was to be taught by that particular professor. I sent the teacher an email to ask if I could take the class without fear of any related bias. The professor never replied.

When I asked my question again on the phone a few days later, the professor told me only that I should be receiving an email from the Dean of Students, and then hung up.

When I met with the Dean of Students, Don Foley, he advised me to take the online section of the course. My education was not as important as a professor behaving unprofessionally. I ended up dropping the class, despite it being the last elective I need for my degree.

If this is the price of Journalism, the price of reporting the truth, of writing satire, of freedom of speech, then it is time to re-evaluate our current expectations, perceptions and understanding of the role of media.

If the price of students voicing their opinions to the dismay of faculty and staff is a limit to our educational rights, it is time for the system to reevaluate its role as a university.

Because the fact is, students are often left out of discussions regarding the system– its courses, offices and policies– despite the policies– despite the consequences of those discussions directly affecting them.

In this case, the complainants never spoke to any of the students involved, nor did the Faculty Senate, which met to discuss us during finals week last May.

The Senate sent us a letter asking us to permanently remove the satirical article from The Sun Star website and to redact the student names appearing in the screen shots accompanying the UAF Confessions article. The letter stated the students were “unfortunate or foolish” to appear on the page, despite the page being public and the commenters being of legal age.

They said their requests were in line “with our mutual goals of high standards for journalistic excellence that serve the educational interests of the UAF community.”

The Sun Star does have high journalistic standards and we do serve the educational interests of UAF. Students should and need to be informed–but not just about the issues the university sees fit.

Many students are hesitant to speak out against the university because they are either planning on attending graduate school, applying for a job or working for a department and are afraid of retaliation.

Students should stop being intimidated and the university needs to start being held more accountable.

It is our job as your student newspaper to encourage the latter and give you more of the former.

So speak up, and speak out.

And welcome back to school.

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4 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    I think it was the adult thing to do to reach out to the professor before the class started, just to address a potentially awkward situation. Apparently the professor deemed themselves unable to act professionally. It’s an unfortunate reaction, and places you in an unfair position, but I suppose one positive thing to bring from it is the professor let you know up front that they weren’t professional enough to handle the situation instead of letting you take the class and using it as a platform to harass you.

    Students should be a part of the process if complaints are filed against their organization, and not treated like children who should keep quiet while the adults handle the situation.

  2. Corey, yo! says:

    first rule of rape culture: we don’t talk about rape culture. Second rule of rape culture: accuse those who talk about rape culture of supporting rape culture. Sounds like our real government too….

  3. Chris says:

    In my experience, students are often left out of discussions. Also, if UAF want’s professionalism, they should re-evaluate some of their staff.

  4. Clayton Auld says:

    This is a very interesting piece. Thanks for writing it. The university system is very inadequate in its ability to handle issues where students’ needs are not properly addressed. It seems that many times assumptions and decisions are made with no thought whatsoever to the effect they are going to have on the students who pay to attend. I agree with everything you said, Lakeidra, and wish more people would have a strong enough opinion and desire to make the needed changes.

    As Heather said, I think you did the adult thing in reaching out to the professor. That was very appropriate, but unfortunately the professor did not know how to properly handle the situation.

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