Spring cleaning

Andrew Sheeler / Editor-in-Chief
March 22, 2011

For the Sun Star, Spring Break meant spring cleaning. It was time to finally do something about all those stacks of old Sun Star issues. My goal was to organize the large pile of clutter on my desk into several smaller, neater piles of clutter. I had no idea going in to this that I was set to unearth the mother lode of UAF history.

Part of cleaning involved going through old Sun Star issues, sorting them and archiving them in boxes. I admit, I am terrible at this sort of thing, mainly because I am so easily distracted. Such a treasure trove of history is irresistible to me, and I spent more time reading than I did sorting. Here are a few things that I found:

  • UAF student apathy is not a new thing. An editorial written by Sun Star Editor Genezaret Barron in the Oct. 4, 1994 issue lamented about the inability of UAF students to give a damn. He wrote, “UAF is well known for its apathetic student body only interested in getting THAT piece of paper at the end of four years.” Barron was disturbed by UAF students lack of concern or even awareness about the “program assessment” that was going on, where UAF programs were being evaluated and, in some cases, terminated. With UA President Patrick Gamble declaring a zero growth strategy for the coming years and the recently released Fisher Report calling for a streamlined university system, could we be entering another period of program assessment?
  • Speaking of Genezaret Barron, I learned that he was more than just a name of a dark room on the lower level of the Bunnell Building. Like me, he was an older student who became editor of the Sun Star. He was a prolific photographer and a fixture of the UAF campus. On Oct. 4, 1994, he was murdered, along with a fellow student and a professor. I was shocked. A Sun Star editor was murdered. I went back and read his last editorial, which came out the same day that he died. Barron had written about the perils of student apathy, that they shouldn’t be so quick to cheer the possible de-funding or termination of the UAF police department. Chillingly, he even mentioned the 1993 murder of Sophie Sergie in Bartlett Hall. When Barron died, UAF students took a rare break from their apathy to tie black ribbons around trees across campus and to gather and mourn.
  • An issue from Feb. 4, 1997 caught my eye with the following headline: “Student stripper making the grade.” The story profiled a student named Joanna who was putting herself through college by working as a stripper. No really. What was most fascinating about that article is that it ran parallel to a story about a student sexual assault survivor speaking out. Was this juxtaposition intentional or accidental? Either way, it highlights one of the darker truths about UAF and the state of Alaska: we have a serious problem with rape. The article, and the accompanying sidebar entitled, “UAF struggles with reality of sexual assault,” calls in to stark relief that UAF’s problem with sexual violence is not new. That problem is a symptom of a greater problem with women. Case in point, the April 25, 1995 issue of the Sun Star. The headline was “Mac and Women’s Center face off in forum.” The story was accompanied by a photo of student Mike Braniff keeping it classy by reading a copy of Penthouse during said forum. The residents of McIntosh Hall were protesting the hall becoming co-ed, a concept that seems positively medieval today. One Mac resident defaced the co-ed announcement memo with, “Bitches better stay home.” To be sure, the UAF community has come a long way since then. We’ve made great strides in integrating our dorms, and UAF has shown considerable support for the Women’s Center and its mission. But as far as we’ve come, there is further still to go. For example, UAF has a long way to go to address the discrepancy in pay and senior faculty positions between men and women.

More than anything else, my spring cleaning adventure highlights just how important newspapers are to the communities they serve. The Sun Star provides a record, a context for the events that shape history. From Sophie Sergie’s death inspiring the current Residence Life rules for signing in to the passage of Alaska’s concealed handgun carry laws motivating the University of Alaska weapons ban, the Sun Star was there reporting and recording. Imagine what people will think of us 20 years from now.

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