Although set the books on fire in the streets is no longer a mainstream form of entertainment, institutions continue to stifle voices of protest through censorship.
Ranging from immolation of books of political philosophy under Emperor Qin Shi Huang in destruction of the Harry Potter books written by Polish priests, suppressing the written word is an age-old tactic to deter criticism, preserve normalcy, and cement orthodoxy. My old elementary school put restrictions on us on reading Harry Potter because our librarian didn’t want us “young Christian children” to grow up with “such nonsense”.
Years later, the destruction of literature continues to strike near my home as a student. In recent years, students across the United States have witnessed a tendency censorship in student news publications. Student journalists have found themselves at odds with hawk-eyed administrators who are eager to operate the student newspaper as an echo chamber for the administrative voice. While The Hustler is fortunate to be a relatively independent source of student information and not bound by academic constraints, it saddens me that students at other universities suffer repercussions for reporting unfavorable material from their respective institutions. . And yes, the obstruction of such written expression can be compared to the sadistic act of setting fire to works of writing.
Universities have long been able to undermine the right to free speech of their students. In 2018, Loyola University Chicago established a Politics which required all faculty and staff to obtain approval for any statement published in the media, including the campus newspaper. Such a tactic was clearly aimed at preventing tarnishing the reputation of the university by creating obstacles for students to pursue crude and outspoken statements from people who could potentially criticize the university. The University of Radford in Virginia even attempted to seize more than a thousand copies of their student newspaper, The Tartan, after posting a breakup story about a student who died in a prison cell after being arrested for alcohol poisoning. One such attempt to cover up the news came after the community criticized the Actions of the university police for their handling of the case.
The controversy that clouds the debate over student independent writing – both in high school and college – is not new. Over the course of four decades, federal and state courts have heard more than sixty case concerning the censorship of student publications. In the 2007 United States Court of Appeal case Hosty vs. Carter, the judges ruled that subsidized or funded academic publications could be subject to censorship review as the public university deemed appropriate. This is a decision that prolongs Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which confirmed the legality of censorship in public high schools.
In our lifetime, writings against the tide, masterpieces like “Kill a mockingbird“by Harper Lee and”Beloved”By Toni Morrison, have been endlessly subjected to great meticulous examination both at the high school and college level due to their uncomfortable – but very real – discussion of topics such as sexism, violence, and critical race theory. Obstruction of student media is similar to obstruction of literary works, as both forms of censorship incubate rigid and narrow-minded modes of thinking.
The question of censorship is on the rise at a time when injustices and inequalities disappear easily without the attention of the general public. Even when publications are not affiliated with a university, they should still adhere to a strict communication protocol rather than pursuing more organic approaches when addressing members of the administration.
Without independent publications completely free from red tape, we are not creating the diverse intellectualism we desire.
To strengthen the voice of students, we must vigilantly call for the full emancipation of students. all school journals from their administrative managers. Currently, an overwhelming majority of college journals are at least partially funded by their institution, making them partially subordinate to the will of the university. According to Vanderbilt Student Communications, the independent nonprofit association that oversees the Hustler, the creation of an independent entity like VSC has enabled the Hustler to achieve a current degree of autonomy. In fact, it was only by the “student media pushing the boundaries, and [Vanderbilt] desire of student journalists for greater autonomy to protect them from real or perceived threats to expression, ”the university filed for a charter of incorporation to establish Vanderbilt Student Communications. The Hustler receives funding via Student Activity Fees paid by all undergraduates as part of their tuition fees, which are then distributed by Vanderbilt to VSC. Such an arrangement is very different from the tiny number of student publications which are completely independent, in that these publications receive no funding from their school.
Unfortunately, very few student newspapers have such favorable circumstances. To tamper with the voice of students is to deny a community the ability to report the truth and cover what matters. When higher education institutions impose barriers such as budget cuts or restrict access to administrators, students’ inability to write about what affects their lives forces them to simply become publicists. Covering up with reality only creates more ignorance and insolence. Whether it is a restrictive literature which extends strongly over critical race theory or gender and sexuality or prohibiting student publications from publishing potentially damaging or revealing information, all acts of censorship only do more harm than good.
In our time of abbreviations, quick facts, and obstructions to the truth, we must take every opportunity to engage with the ideas around us, to question each other and those responsible. We must be accountable for what matters to we and not just what we are told to report. Conscience does not come from complacency.
Student writers seek data, ideas, and perspectives that shape the community in which we are proud to live. From articles that deplore the deterioration of the state of to eat on campus to do Asian American Studies a field studies, maintaining an open world view starts from the ground up, and that includes freeing student journals from constraints.
As a writer for The Vanderbilt Hustler, I am grateful for my relative independence from influence or pressure.
This independence gives me and my fellow writers a platform to share the deepest movements of our community, ranging from the quest for Dores Divest to strip fossil fuels to advocate for greater gender diversity bathrooms. Our freedom as writers is an indication of the Vanderbilt community’s commitment to amplifying student voices and showcasing our diverse and unique experiences.
Our independence is even more critical now given the heavily censored period we find ourselves in, both politically, socially and academically. By amplifying the voice of student writers, we are making our mark on history step by step.
After all, there’s a reason The Hustler is called a “student newspaper”. We are run by students, for students.