In the past week, college students have been protesting, pressuring and bringing attention to racial injustice on their campuses.
Of course, controversy developed because of this over political correctness and free speech for journalists. At University of Missouri, Tim Tai and Mark Schierbecker, two journalists, were blocked by students for infringing on their safe space. In fact, Melissa Click, a media professor, called for “muscle” to block Schierbecker.
While the professor since apologized and resigned from her position, this issue is not black-and-white. A fitting us-versus-them narrative developed and buried issues of racism, privatization and neglect in favor of political correctness gone wrong and those darn crazy Millennials feeling so sensitive.
As journalists and students, we feel it is our duty to comment on such an issue. Even CUNY Chancellor James Milliken felt compelled to talk about these events as CUNY, in his words, is a “place of inclusion, not exclusion.”
“Universities are places where free speech, debate and the open exchange of ideas are not just encouraged, they are necessary to our mission of exploring and understanding a diverse range of ideas and perspectives. And while we will always embrace this openness to many voices, intolerant, hateful and bigoted speech, while it may be legally protected, is anathema to our values,” Milliken said.
Since #BlackLivesMatter first appeared, the media intensely vilified it by all means. One story even alleged people tied to Black Lives Matter killed Charles Gliniewicz, a police officer, in Illinois. Gliniewicz actually committed suicide after fearing exposure of his embezzling scheme involving money for youths.
Moreover, journalists at Ferguson, Mo., last year eventually were not welcomed by residents. Ryan Schuessler, a journalist, left the city and gave reasons in a post titled “Why I Left Ferguson” on his personal site.
Schuessler said he left because of incidents ranging from TV crews mocking the spot where 18-year-old Michael Brown died to reporters hoping to get famous by being arrested. He even overheard one reporter call Ferguson a “networking opportunity.”
“In the early days of all this, I was warmly greeted and approached by Ferguson residents. They were glad that journalists were there. The past two days, they do not even look at me and blatantly ignore me. I recognize that I am now just another journalist to them, and their frustration with us is clear. In the beginning there was a recognizable need for media presence, but this is the other extreme,” Schuessler said.
There is more to show how the carelessness of reporters would lead to incidents like at Missouri. Journalists require the ability to analyze not only the short-term situation, but also the long-term as well.
We’re reporters with the power to shape opinions. We know activists, like all other sources, need to know we are trustworthy and not carrying out a personal agenda. It isn’t easy and no one ever said it was.
Langston Hughes, one of America’s most famous poets, wrote a short, but timeless poem called “Harlem.” In it, Hughes asks “What happens to a dream deferred?” He offers different outcomes, but the last one is the most relevant and chilling of all: “Or does it explode?”
Protests will continue if nothing is done to address racial tensions even beyond college campuses. Talk should not focus on the exaggerated political correctness. Rather stopping racism and creating a democratic environment where students feel comfortable, or not threatened on a constant basis, works.
Before Milliken and the administration talk about CUNY as a place of “inclusion,” they should address the spying the NYPD conducts on Muslims at CUNY. They should address the incessant tuition hikes hurting working-class students, which includes those from black families. They should address the lack of a contract for professors and staff.
All of this excludes people from the CUNY community and the administration should be concerned. Because if they’re not, who should?