Letter From the Editor: The Role of Media in Activism

When I first heard about Jonathan Butler, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, and his weeklong hunger strike to pressure President Timothy M. Wolfe to step down from his position, I was impressed. While our school is very different than the University of Missouri, racism and other forms of discrimination also persist on our campus, though not as blatantly as at Butler’s school. His bold form of protest was a peaceful and productive response to heinous injustices, and is a great example of how students have incredible power in seemingly simple, but brave, actions. The resulting support from the school’s football team and their refusal to practice and play until Wolfe resigned showed how students can use their platforms to force change. But the events that followed unfortunately, also demonstrate that those fighting for justice can sometimes disregard the rights of others.

As the story develops there are many elements worth discussing: the climate of the university, Wolfe’s response and the significance of students recognizing their crucial role to universities. But as a student journalist, issues involving media are of particular importance to me.

On Nov. 9 a video went viral showing student journalist Tim Tai’s interactions
with the #ConcernedStudent1950 group. Tai was tasked with photographing the reaction of the victorious activists at the tent city they set up on a public campus space. But the activists did not want the media to come onto what they deemed a “safe space” and forcibly prevented him from taking pictures by shouting at him, grabbing his arms, and shoving him further away from the area. I know that it is common in protest culture for protestors to be encouraged not to speak to the media, and they absolutely have that right under the Fifth Amendment. But they could have practiced this right by ignoring Tai, turning their backs to him to avoid photos or by simply telling him to talk to someone else. They reacted to Tai with unnecessary hostility and blatantly rejected his first amendment rights—which is something the group
has so passionately fought for.

Tai was doing his job as a journalist to get the facts so he can share the
story with others and mark down a significant moment in history. It seems
counterproductive, when so many movements gain leverage through social media and the efforts of the press. Especially problematic was faculty member Melissa Click’s reaction to the student journalists, when she suggested they needed “muscle” to get them to leave. As a member of the University of Missouri, which has a prestigious journalism program, Click should encourage the education of journalistsand understand the importance of their work.

Here are the facts: Click encouraged force and violence, a “safe space”
became increasingly aggressive against Tai, and protestors physically pushed
Tai when he explicitly asked them not to touch him. As a journalist, when I see things like this, I feel demoralized—I feel frightened.

The protestors implied that his job is less important than their lives—an
argument which I understand. But for me, journalism is more than a job. It is
my life. When protestors ask journalists to leave because they are invading on
their lives, they forget that journalists follow what drives them. I know the
criticisms journalists face and that people often assume the worst of us. But
the stories that other journalists and I pursue are often the stories we care
deeply about. Particularly for me, and possibly for Tai, when I cover stories, it is about much more than just “my job.”

The media have a crucial role to play in activism. All people have a right to
share their story. And we are here try and do your stories justice.

–Melissa Lin, Editor in Chief