This Issue’s College Issues: The Perpetuation of Student Censorship on college campuses

How writing for student publications can lead to unintended censorship due to strict AP style rules


Writing for the Pioneer Log has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career.  Having written briefly for my previous university’s student newspaper — the University of San Francisco Foghorn — and been treated like a dumpster of poop both creatively and editorially, my original expectations of writing for the Pioneer Log were shockingly low.  However, as with the entirety of my experiences thus far at Lewis & Clark, I am consistently and delightfully surprised at the constant positivity.  The freedom the Pioneer Log editorial staff has given me in expressing my opinions without censorship or judgement has been nonetheless sensational.

In a recent piece I wrote entitled “Student Media and Campus Speech Codes,” in which I reviewed LC’s “speech code,” I mentioned the the vast outlets for student expression offered on campus.  The Pioneer Log is perhaps the pinnacle of these unbiased and inclusive outlets.  The paper runs essentially independent of the administration of the college, allowing all students to publish their work without hierarchical censorship or advanced approval by the school itself.  As I wrote in the original article, this is an incredibly unique and nonetheless amazing system not commonly found at other colleges.  Contrarily, in fact, some colleges — and even students themselves — continue to censor and punish their writers for simply voicing their opinions.

Recently, at Rutgers University, a student writer for the school’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Targum, was fired from the organization based upon his political ideology and vocabulary within his articles.  An ardent Libertarian, Aviv Khavich published six pieces in the college’s newspaper before his termination, each part of his biweekly column entitled “Self-Evident Truths.”  They ranged in topic from critiquing socialism and the Black Lives Matter Movement, to praising Donald Trump in the recent election, to questioning the consequences of resettling Syrian refugees.  Much like myself, Khavich purports to be an avid defender of freedom of speech; however, our rhetoric differs quite substantially in the defense of said right.  Nevertheless, we find ourselves at yet another conflicting and morally perplexing intersection of freedom of speech and legitimate censorship.  

In his recent piece titled “Enforcement of Law is not Anti-immigrant,” Khavich details his strong support of the mass deportation of those who have entered the nation illegally, otherwise written as “illegal aliens” by Khavich himself.  Upon publication of the piece, Khavich noticed that all references to “illegal aliens” had been changed to “undocumented immigrants” by the editorial staff.  His passionate stance on the matter was undoubtedly further intensified upon reading the unexplained censorship of his work.  After consulting the editor-in-chief — who proclaimed his grave distaste for Khavich’s article — Khavich was terminated from the newspaper and his column was discontinued.

In response, Khavich released the termination letter he received from the editor-in-chief, which cited the apparent multiple occurrences that led to his termination.  Khavich was accused of having made “previous attempt[s] to disparage the Targum’s name publicly” and exhibited a lack of respect for the entire paper’s staff.  My response to this would be: why did the paper not fire him earlier?  Had it truly been a matter of disrespect, how many times must a writer disrespect other staff before being fired?  One ought to respond loudly, “ONCE.”  I agree with Khavich in that it was a carefully pinpointed scheme to remove his unpopular opinions from the newspaper.  

Furthermore, in response to Khavich’s comments that the paper clearly exhibited a liberal bias, and only currently employed around two or three outspoken conservative writers, the editor-in-chief released the highly debatable statement, “we have other conservative columnists.”  In the same way that having one gay friend and one black friend does not release you from homophobia or racism, having two conservative writers on your staff does not overshadow the otherwise liberal nature of the newspaper.

Khavich’s censoring is particularly complex in that conflicts with the Associated Press Stylebook, the guide that most newspapers use in determining stylistic and grammatical corrections for their publications.  However, one must not hold the AP Stylebook as the ruling literature upon press publications, as the true dogma of journalism can instead be found within The Canons of Journalism, published in 1923.  Within it, one of the pillars of responsible journalism entails that, “Freedom of the press is to be guarded as a vital right of mankind. It is the unquestionable right to discuss whatever is not explicitly forbidden by law, including the wisdom of any restrictive statute.”  Though calling those in our country illegally “illegal aliens” is questionable, it is neither illegal nor should be treated as such.

Bluntly, the AP Stylebook is not the be-all end-all of journalism.  In fact, it merely provides suggestions, with no legal sanctions in pursuing those who violate the suggestions.  Furthermore, the AP Stylebook directly mentions to avoid the usage of the term “undocumented immigrant” as well, which was used in place of Khavich’s original “illegal alien” references.  Therefore, the newspaper essentially substituted one objectionable term for another, claiming to have been simply following the AP Stylebook.  However, it is as clearly defined not to use the term “illegal aliens” as it is “undocumented immigrant” and the newspaper blatantly lied to promote their own agenda and belittle unpopular discourse.

Mr. Khavich: though we differ drastically on ideology and rhetoric, I vehemently support you in your exercising of freedom of speech.  You were treated poorly and discriminatorily simply based upon your political ideology, and that is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of your entire story, far beyond that of your polarizing rhetoric.  Student media publications quite literally exist to circulate the creativity and opinions of students themselves and your story merely outlines the perpetuation of student-led censorship entirely antithetical to the very institution of journalism.

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