Trust me, as someone who minored in women’s and gender studies, I find the column Chris Surette wrote in Fairfield University’s student newspaper, “The Fairfield Mirror,” about the walk of shame degrading and disgusting. Especially the part where he suggests the male in a one-night stand situation bail as soon as possible because:
you don’t want to find out she’s a stage five clinger because that pounding you gave her last night will turn into a pounding headache for you for the next couple of weeks.
But, I do think the school’s decision to file harrassment charges against the paper is wrong. A student paper is a place for student journalists to create forums, experiment with new ideas and take on controversial topics. And if they take a few chances, they’re going to make a few mistakes. If they don’t, how will they ever learn from them?
It seems after the editors published this column, they got a lot of heat. And I’m sure they debated their decision extensively in editorial and budget meetings. The paper’s editor in chief told the Connecticut Post:
“I think we realized our code of procedure is kind of missing that part. We don’t want that kind of language in the paper,” said Cleary.
I bet you they are having some interesting conversations in their newsroom, like, “where does humor end, and harrasment begin?” We need to let them have these conversations and fix their product.
The most important lesson they have to learn, though, is in the end, they are accountable to their readers, not the administration. Their readers are going to call them out when they make poor judgement calls. They have to learn to trust in the oft-tension filled relationship between newspapers and their audience. They cannot and should not be trained to live in fear of legal consequences or reprimands from an institution. Otherwise, they will be marred forever.
Someone in the Connecticut Post article makes the same point as me, more eloquently:
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said, “The public weighed in with their concerns. The editor heard those concerns and apologized. The marketplace of ideas has proven to work. That’s the way disagreements about offensive editorial content are supposed to be resolved.”
“It’s incredibly dangerous,” he added, “to start using the mechanism of a school disciplinary policy to resolve a disagreement over a student editor’s judgments.”
Fairfield University needs to step out of this one.