Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

What Happens When A Student Newspaper Gains A Competitor?

Dylan Berman

The Spectator has served as Seattle University’s student newspaper since 1933. Dozens of faculty members, hundreds of editors and thousands of reporters have had a hand in crafting the words that have filled the endless pages. From sports tournaments to student accomplishments to Quadstocks, The Spectator has kept Seattle U students abreast of university happenings and current events for all nine decades of its existence. On top of that, the paper serves as a voice for the Redhawk community, with stories focusing mainly on Seattle U interests. 

But not all Seattle U community members have always felt The Spectator has represented their points of view. Some have simply quit reading the paper, others may have bad-mouthed it, and the especially disgruntled have even removed issues of The Spectator from newsstands.

But some took up a novel form of protest. They started their own newspaper.

Jeff Philpott, a retired professor in Seattle U’s communications department, taught at the university from 1992 to 2023. Alternative student papers, in his view, were spurred on by the perceived link between The Spectator and administration.

“The Spectator is the official newspaper. Not in the sense that it speaks for the university but it is supported by and sanctioned by the university, so it gets a reputation of being connected with the university administration– I think more wrongly than rightly sometimes,” Philpott said

Lauren Ressler, a Seattle U alumna who graduated in 2011 with a degree in environmental studies, wrote for one of these alternative student newspapers. For students and with no affiliation with Seattle U, the publication was amusingly titled The Participator and dealt with social justice issues that the writers and editors felt were being underrepresented in The Spectator’s pages.  

“[The name] was a play, obviously, on The Spectator,” Ressler said. “I think at the time the student group that I was a part of was a little bit frustrated by the reporting that had been happening that felt like The Spectator was serving as a bystander to campus affairs but not actually taking more serious positions on issues that were rising up in the greater community.”

While The Participator took a left-wing approach to student journalism, Philpott noted that The Spectator had faced criticism from both sides of the political aisle. With student publications, editorial turnover from year to year can lead to the same publication having radically different approaches within a short period of time.

“Over the years, there have been cases where there was a perception that the Spectator was too liberal. There were other cases where The Spectator wasn’t perceived as being up in front enough on social issues,” Philpott said.

One issue of The Participator, published in the winter of 2008, featured a number of articles on hot-button issues of the day. A writer named Sean O’Neill penned a thoughtful letter on the recent election of Barack Obama and the racial inequities still faced by minority groups in America. Katya Ekimoto published a fiery repudiation of a proposed abortion regulation that would restrict the access of women to birth control. And Ressler’s article described the myriad of environmental justice issues posed by the proposal of liquified natural gas (LNG) plants in the state of Oregon.

The paper is in some ways poignant, others nostalgic, and at times seemingly clairvoyant. At one point O’Neill’s letter predicts a rise in postracial thinking (defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a country where race no longer matters, where racism no longer exists”) in the wake of Obama’s election. Shortly after the publication of this issue of The Participator, Columbia University professor John McWhorter wrote an opinion piece in Forbes claiming exactly that. This attitude persists in some form through 2024, with Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley recently telling Fox News that “America has never been a racist country.”

As the issues go, there were some victories. The proposed LNG plants in Oregon Ressler argues against were eventually blocked by federal regulators and the main company involved ceased operation in 2016. But on others, the outlook was less clear. The legislation Ekimoto references did not pass, but the landmark Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson overturning federal protections of abortion have left certain women’s health issues in an arguably worse state than they were in 2008. 

In the intervening 15 years, other social justice issues have risen to the forefront of country and campus consciousness. Student writers, both in affiliated and unaffiliated publications, have helped to bring about social change.

“[Student journalistic activism] continues to this day,” Philpott said. “You see it with the Black Lives Matter protests and protests around issues surrounding sexuality over the past decade or so. You’ve seen it on our campus with the drag show protest and the dialogue about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.”

Ultimately, the Participator died out, likely as the publishing members graduated or moved on to other projects. Similar fates befell other student publications, including The Observer and Hard Copy. Without outside backing, it’s difficult for student publications to withstand annual institutional turnover.

In Ressler’s view, however, unaffiliated student publications will remain a part of collegiate dialogue for the foreseeable future.

“I think that having a multiplicity of journalistic outlets is part of what has promoted the best moments of free speech in this country, has created the most dialogue and the most engagement and supported community self-governance. The core of democracy is people feeling like they can engage with the issues that directly affect their lives and I think that journalism is critical for helping people do that,” Ressler said.

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About the Contributors
Sam Bunn, Investigative Editor
Dylan Berman, News Editor

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