Students at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University are petitioning the school’s governing body to cease funding its student newspaper after it ran an opinion piece last week criticizing aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In his essay, published in The Wesleyan Argus, second year student Bryan Stascavage questioned whether the movement that began last year to protest the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police is inciting people to violence toward police.
A review of the petition shows it has 150 signatures, all students, except for a few university staff members. The petition calls for a “boycott” of the newspaper until its demands are met. However, because The Argus is distributed for free, the “boycott,” is described in the petition as, “recycling the Argus.”
Argus Executive Editor Sofi Goode said that since the petition was circulated, stacks of Argus newspapers have been found moved from their distribution locations to other places around campus, with some stacks of papers being found in trash bins. Some Twitter feeds have stated that hundreds of copies of The Argus have been taken by protesters, although Goode could not provide a number of copies that were removed.
Laura Rubenstein, assistant manager of media relations and public relations, said she was not aware of any university rules that govern the taking of copies of a free publication en mass for the purpose of removing them from circulation.
The petition states its signers will continue to recycle copies of the paper, and also demands the university cease funding The Argus, until the newspaper implements specific changes, which the petition lists as its demands.
As of Sept. 25 no motion had been made in the Wesleyan Student Assembly to take action to change funding of The Argus, said Rubenstein.
The petition’s demands include, “Commitment to create work study/course credit positions, a Monthly Report on allocation of funds and leadership structure, Required-once a semester Social Justice/Diversity training for all publications (Via Elisa Cardona/SALD office), Active Recruitment and Advertisement, and Open spaces dedicated for marginalized groups/voices if no submissions: BLANK that states: “for your voice” on the front page.”
The WSA has scheduled a town hall meeting for Sept. 27 specifically to discuss the issue. Rubenstein said the meeting will be closed to the general media. However, Goode confirmed that Argus staff will attend, and the paper plans to report on what happens.
The WSA did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
University President Michael Roth, in a blog post published on the university’s website, www.wesleyan.edu, decried the rush to censor the newspaper, saying, “Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable. As members of a university community, we always have the right to respond with our own opinions, but there is no right not to be offended…Censorship diminishes true diversity of thinking; vigorous debate enlivens and instructs.”
In the article, Stascavage writes that he believes institutional racism exists in this country and needs to be corrected, saying, “There is a reason why so many have shown up to protests across the country: there is clearly something wrong, and wrong enough to motivate them to exit their homes and express their frustration publicly.”
The part of his essay that the petition’s signers presumably take issue with is when Stascavage suggests the Black Lives Matter movement may be promoting hate, citing an August rally in Minnesota in which a group of white and black demonstrators alike chanted, “Pigs in a blanket, fry’em like bacon.”
Stascavage is listed as a staff writer on The Argus website. In a phone interview, Stascavage said the paper told him they will keep him on the staff. He said he assumed some readers would disagree with what he wrote, but he never imagined his essay would generate the response it has.