Anonymous comments have pushed the relationship between Virginia Tech’s student newspaper, the Collegiate Times, and the university to the breaking point. Recently, there have been hateful and racist comments on an announcement about a diversity summit that focused on the Asian community. The comments were directed toward the South Korean student responsible for the Virginia Tech massacre and the Chinese student responsible for beheading another Chinese student on campus. Virginia Tech’s Commission on Student Affairs wants to terminate its contract with the non-profit company that oversees its student media. The university has also threatened to block advertising for the paper. According to Sarah Mitchell, editor-in-chief of the Collegiate Times, “the disagreement no longer is an issue about anonymous postings. It is about the university trying to control our content.” If this is true then Virginia Tech is committing a gross violation of the Collegiate Times’s first amendment right to freedom of the press.
The announcement about the diversity summit drew a great deal of outrageous comments. Some were removed by Collegiate Times editors, but many were left on the website. Tech’s administration feels that these comments should not be anonymous and that people that wish to comment should be forced to register or submit signed letters to the editor for print, or both. This policy is ridiculous. Most collegiate and professional newspaper websites allow for anonymous online postings similar to those Tech has received.
Also, like Tech, editors at other collegiate and professional newspapers delete comments that are outrageous and do not belong in public forum. The newspapers at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia all have policies similar to those of Tech.
Tech should not end its contract with the non-profit company, Educational Media Company. It would only hurt other student media operations at Tech. The Collegiate Times receives most of its funding from ad revenues placed. Terminating the contract, which amounts to $70,000 a year, would hurt the yearbook, literary magazine, and student radio and student television more than the newspaper. Tech is also considering blocking advertising from the Collegiate Times, which, in itself, would be unconstitutional. The university can pull its funding of the paper if it does not like its policies, but it cannot prohibit others from placing ads in the paper. Tech is clearly bullying the Collegiate Times into policies that would lead to censorship of the paper and is attempting to control the paper’s revenue sources outside of the university.
It is not a student newspaper’s fault that people unaffiliated with the newspaper leave racist and malicious comments. The Collegiate Times does the best job it can in deleting offensive comments, but ultimately it cannot censor everything people say. These comments were malicious, racist and hateful — I am not condoning them. However, maybe instead of Tech trying to censor the newspaper the university should spend more of its time attacking the more serious problem of its student’s attitudes toward different ethnic groups. The university should start putting a real effort into developing diversity and teaching students about different cultures on campus instead of trying to bully and censor its student newspaper in an effort to cover up the true feelings of some of its students.
E-mail Ben Arancibia at [email protected]