The Student Commits To Change

The Editorial Board unequivocally stands with the Black Lives Matter movement, along with the Black students, faculty and staff at Amherst who not only continually navigate the racist structures embedded in the predominantly white institution but have often also carried the weight of anti-racism work on our campus since its inception. We condemn the racism running rampant in this country that has led to the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and too many others; we stand in solidarity with Black students and people of color on campus and denounce hate speech and lack of institutional protocol against it at this school; and we are committed to actively eradicating racial bias from this newsroom.      

Last week, members of The Student’s Editorial Board sat down together for about an hour and a half of self-reflection across Zoom. This Zoom meeting took place amid the national confrontation of the racism that has remained central to the United States for centuries. Among the conversations of the Black Lives Matter movement, there is a dialogue about how media outlets have either been complicit or active in perpetuating the inequality of Black communities. As a newspaper, we must realize the power that comes in framing stories, including voices and highlighting opinions. We need to acknowledge our influence and work to make sure that influence isn’t erasing the experiences of Black students on campus.  

From discriminatory coverage of Black neighborhoods to the racism that Black journalists have faced in newsrooms all over the country, American media outlets must address their role in institutionalizing racial bias in the communities they serve.

The Student is not an exception — cue our Zoom meeting.

Just this spring, we saw the power that this newspaper can have to provide more transparency on racism at this school and to elevate the voices of those whom many on this campus have chosen not to listen to; we are proud that the #IntegrateAmherst series that lived in these digital pages had a small role in pressuring the administration to adopt an institutional bias protocol and comprehensive anti-racism training for all members of the community. While we were moved by its successes; we were also learning from our failures in publishing it. We realized the importance of seeking out perspectives from a diverse range of Black organizations, not just the Black Student Union; we were reminded about the importance of seeking out different people within those organizations, not just those who often have the spotlight. We know we can and will do better in the future. 

We also do not want the only times when we highlight the voices of Black students and other students of color to be when something bad has happened in the community; we want to help uplift Black voices in every sector, to highlight Black art, Black scholarship and Black every-day-at-Amherst-ness. 

As a newspaper editorial board, we sat in our Zoom meeting with questions about how our own journalism must be improved to better serve each and every member of the Amherst community. 

What perspectives have we historically left out of our coverage? As a student-run publication, what is our relationship to other student organizations on campus? What can we do to strengthen these relationships? What concrete action can we take as we rededicate ourselves to an inclusive mission?

These are just some of the questions that we grappled with during that Zoom meeting and continue to brainstorm in a shared Google Doc. We have committed to making tangible change within our own institution as part of our goal of presenting fair and accurate coverage of everyone in the Amherst community. We offer a full, comprehensive list of how we are beginning this process at the end of this editorial.      

This reckoning with the ways racism permeates through media is not isolated to The Student. Over the past month, journalists at large, national outlets have contended with and criticized their own publications’ complicity in perpetuating racist ideologies both in their reporting and in their company culture. New York Times journalists spoke out en masse after its opinion section published an article by Senator Tom Cotton suggesting that the government use military force to counteract demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd; shortly after the article’s release and its subsequent outrage, Opinion Editor James Bennet resigned, admitting that he had not vetted the article prior to its publication. Bennet does not stand alone: the editors-in-chief of Bon Appétit and Refinery29, Adam Rapoport and Christene Barberich respectively, also stepped down after their employees of color exposed the toxic work culture embedded in their brands, in what they choose to report on and how much they choose to compensate BIPOC writers.  

At The Student, there are institutional lapses that have constructed barriers to entry for people of color at large and Black people specifically. Journalism and media has often been considered a “white boys’ club” of sorts, limiting who can access positions of power. Those who are successful in the industry do not rise into executive positions on merit alone (if at all), but often share a common pedigree: elite degrees, old money backgrounds that have allowed them to take unpaid and low-paid positions — an all-too-pervasive practice in media — and connections with top journalists through family friends. We recognize that The Student is not immune from these hallmarks of journalism. It is no coincidence that many of our editors attended high schools with strong, well-funded journalism programs, largely at predominantly white and wealthy private and top public schools; held editor positions through these programs; and have subsequently been able to lean into The Student with relative ease. Though perhaps not intentional, we must contend with our positionality within the norms of journalism as a whole.

Even as we advertise ourselves as an organization open to all students — no prior experience or application necessary — there are constraints our newsroom presents that may prevent full participation. Running a newspaper is a larger time commitment than it may appear at face value, comparable to a full-time job at its peak and an extra class at its plateau. For some, the “extra time” to pursue The Student is a luxury when on-campus employment or other responsibilities take precedence. Activists at Wesleyan, for example, have pressured their campus paper to create work-study editor positions in hopes of increasing the number of low-income students of color to their editorial board.  

Our shortcomings are not limited to who is writing, but also who is written about. In our news coverage, what issues are we deeming important or unimportant to report on? Whose voices are most prevalent or excluded in our opinion section? What do we consider art and what lifestyles are privileged under “arts and living?” How often do we report on sports as if they existed inside of a vacuum, completely separate from race? If we are not asking ourselves these questions often, we are not doing our job in serving and uplifting the Amherst community.          

Compounding the current moment, the Amherst community has learned of what the college will look like in the coming fall semester. With some students on campus, others learning remotely, and still others taking the semester off, the coronavirus pandemic continues to transform our assumptions about what the college experience is. 

With the sequel of Amherst College: Pandemic Edition coming this fall, we, the Editorial Board, continue to reflect on how we will serve a community that is geographically disconnected and socially distanced. 

We are given the opportunity to re-imagine the work we do and the role we have in this community. We must consider how we have functioned in the past and how we will adapt and improve for an unprecedented future. And, we know that in doing so, our earlier conversations about racial inclusion must be a central factor. 

To put it broadly, how can we best serve the Amherst student? 

The Amherst student who wants to see the college act on, not just speak out against, the racism publicized by the @blackamherstspeaks Instagram page. The Amherst student who may not find an online college experience to be financially viable. The Amherst student who is trying to make sense of what it means to be Black in white spaces and to live on a campus where the police force still carries weapons. The Amherst student who may take classes from their childhood bedroom for another semester. The Amherst student on campus who is homesick but not allowed to leave or host visitors.

The Amherst student experience has never been one-size-fits-all and The Student strives to reflect that, not just this fall but in all future semesters.

Over the course of our Zoom conversation, the Editorial Board’s Google Doc filled with productive brainstorming. These are just the initial steps we, as a newspaper, are taking to better serve you at a college and in a world that is constantly changing. 

We wish we could provide an all-encompassing thesis to answer the questions at hand. And trust us, we’re working on it, but first we need you, the Amherst student, to share your thoughts. How can we serve Amherst students better? What do you want to see us do better or change to serve you? Enter the conversation here

  • As an editorial board, we commit to making the following institutional changes: We are launching a Quantitative Data Report to have real numbers to illustrate who we write about, who we interview and who writes what stories. We will publish this report. 
  • We are going to intensify our editor’s checklist to force ourselves to stop and reflect on who we are interviewing and what intersecting identities they represent. We will use this as one institutionalized, accountable means of striving towards better representation in our interviews for stories, especially stories that are not explicitly about that identity. 
  • We hope to perform a comprehensive readership survey, to grasp how our reporting and coverage is perceived across the entire college community and how we can better serve our readers. We don’t want to only write about the Black community at Amherst; we want to write for them. 
  • We will broaden our planned writing workshops and host specific workshops for people of color and underrepresented identities in journalism, to help equip them with some of the background tools and journalism know-how to help combat barriers to entry on the paper. 
  • We would like to launch a year-long topic to focus-in on and interrogate when it comes to diversity and inclusion on campus. We hope that this will give us the opportunity to highlight the concerns, struggles and voices of students of color more proactively. 
  • We will strive to build out more consistent relationships with affinity groups on campus to learn more about their needs and priorities, so that we can build a more reciprocal relationship that doesn’t mean just meeting when we need a story idea or an interview. 

We know we’re only getting started. 

Unsigned editorials represent the Editorial Board. Of 11 editorial members present: assenting: 11; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 0.