What Are We Doing Here?
As the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close, it seems like a suitable time to reflect on how The Student has served the community over the past year and what our plans are for the future.
The academic year started with coverage of Hampshire College’s financial struggles and Amherst’s response, as well as the introduction of the new Flexible Grading Option, which has now been expanded to include all classes, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited the campus to discuss her views on the current political climate, the judiciary and gender discrimination. Then, the college was briefly mired in controversy when The Student reported that several professors signed a letter opposing a low-income housing project in the town of Amherst.
Come spring, we reported that the Association of Amherst Students piloted a new program, Val After Dark, that extended hours at Valentine Dining Hall to encompass late-night dining, starting Feb. 6. The Democratic presidential primary inspired activism from Amherst students as they tried to secure the position for their preferred candidate. The Amherst community also faced an incident in which students used the N-word near their Black teammate, and we continue to come to terms with what this means for the community and institution.
Finally, the second semester has ended with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and the subsequent move to remote learning for college students across the country, including those at Amherst.
With all this behind us — and knowing that much more lies ahead — The Student is now formally publishing our mission statement for the first time in the paper’s history. It’s a long-overdue promise to ourselves and to you, our readers and Amherst community members. It’s a reminder to us when we’re toiling away in the basement of Morrow, copying text into InDesign at 1 a.m., of why it’s important to do what we do. It’s a commitment to you so that you know what to expect in the stories we print and hold us accountable if we don’t rise to that standard.
Our mission statement, freshly posted on our website, is as follows:
The mission of The Amherst Student is to provide accurate, reliable information on every dimension of campus and community life at Amherst College, highlighting the issues relevant to the college’s students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the community. The Student aims to amplify student voices and opinions, from multiple perspectives, while acting as a forum for discourse and campus conversation. We strive to live up to the essential role we play in binding the community, recognizing that we are the sole news publication centered on issues pertaining to Amherst College.
We are a student-run weekly publication editorially independent of Amherst College and its administrators, though we depend on AAS discretionary funds for our weekly printing costs.
The formal statement of this mission follows an editorial staff meeting that we held to brainstorm around the question, What are we doing here, anyways? The final product represents the values that motivate the Editorial Board, values that are directly informed by the challenges that our stories have raised.
As we departed campus in March and left behind any sense of a collective it offered, we deeply felt the role we have to foster a sense of community around ideas and questions. We strive to live up to the essential role we play in binding the community.
We grappled with finding details of the act of the racist violence that occurred in March, then weighed ethical questions of whether sharing them could cause more harm than help (it wouldn’t, we decided). The Amherst Student is to provide[s] accurate, reliable information on every dimension of campus and community life at Amherst College.
Out of this, we launched the collaborative op-ed series with the Black Student Union (BSU) around the need to #IntegrateAmherst. It’s rather unusual and uncharted terrain for a media outlet like ours to team up with a group centered on affinity and activism, and the decision to take part asked us again to revisit our purpose. The Student aims to amplify student voices and opinions, from multiple perspectives, while acting as a forum for discourse and campus conversation.
We recognize that The Student is oftentimes the only news source specifically centered on the Amherst College community, heightening our need to report on issues otherwise unreported and our responsibility to get the facts right. It’s a large task to undertake, between the time-intensive nature of reporting and the mental gymnastics of ethical journalism, but one for which our reporters and editors rise to the challenge. Whether it’s a racist incident on campus or affordable housing disputes or grading policies, The Student strives to report on the frontlines of the issues most important and relevant to our community.
These are promises born not from some lofty ideal of media perfection, but from the lived realities and questions that we ask ourselves, over and over again. Why should we publish that? Does it help anyone to know this? What are we doing here, anyway? They are questions that have no perfect answer, and they probably never will. But this mission statement is our first attempt at a response. It’s a promise that even if we and the news we put out may be flawed, it is thoughtful, thorough and above all, clear. Our promise to you is to keep striving towards that, whatever new lessons the future holds.
Unsigned editorials represent the Editorial Board (assenting: 9; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 4)