Student Protest at Lehigh Triggers Fight with Campus Newspaper

A silent march and sit-in staged late last week by students at Lehigh University “to protest discrimination on campus” proved to be an arduous reporting journey for Lehigh’s student newspaper. The protesters and some of their supporters declined to talk to reporters on the scene, threatened the paper’s staffers, accused them of being part of the problem they were protesting against and ultimately led the paper to pen TWO response editorials explaining its role on campus.

The 90-second backstory: On Friday afternoon, a group calling itself From Beneath the Rug (FBR) “dressed in black and white formal attire with duct-taped mouths” and marched to the home of Lehigh’s president to raise awareness about the perceived suppression of minority groups and issues on campus. Throughout the protest and the days that have followed, the group has remained determined to spread its message only on its own terms– via social media, a Google doc open letter and apparent plans to jump-start a defunct alternative campus news source known as The Brown and Black.

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This meant that when staffers from The Brown and White, Lehigh’s student newspaper, attempted to cover the walk-and-sit shebang, they were repeatedly rebuffed. The protesters also asked nearby onlookers to refrain from speaking to the paper. As an anonymous FBR supporter explains, “FBR chose not to comment to the Brown and White because they don’t feel the B&W accurately addresses race issues. It’s better to not have your story told than to have it told by people who don’t understand.”

The relationship between the two camps appears to remain, ahem, heated. As B&W editors contend:

“Friday’s protest quickly shifted from an event challenging campus prejudices to a battle amongst members of the protest group and the Brown and White itself. Members of FBR … blatantly refused to speak with any Brown and White reporter. They even instructed other members of the group to turn their heads away as Brown and White reporters filmed and photographed the protest. … As we attempted to navigate through the lack of communication and information, we began to receive negative messages and threats from members and affiliates of FBR about our coverage. They attacked us for covering the event objectively, without a bias sympathetic to their cause. They transformed the protest into an ‘us vs. them,’ narrowing the conflict to be almost exclusively with the Brown and White.”

The related difficulties for the paper: 1) Reporting accurately and objectively on an event “without any input from the voices that truly should have been driving the story: those of the protesters themselves.” (B&W community engagement manager Katie Hommes: “If FBR had chosen to engage with the Brown and White, our coverage would have been very different.”) 2) Suddenly finding itself at the center of news it was covering. 3) Being branded a villain without any warning and without a ton of explanation by a segment of readership it aims to serve.

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As editors note in a related editorial, “We, the editorial board, do not seek to become news, but rather aim to act as a vehicle to spread news and the message of the news itself. … Our role is simple. The role of a news source is to take the facts and portray them to an interested audience as accurately as possible. Our ability to do so, however, is severely limited when the facts are partially or entirely obscured from our understanding of a situation. We do our best to report, but when we cannot confirm information we will not report it.”

Staffers conclude a separate editorial with a quote from famed “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace: “I was never the story. The story was the story. Period.”

Related

Student Editor: ‘Why is it Worth My Time to Put This Paper Out Twice a Week?’

Comments
3 Responses to “Student Protest at Lehigh Triggers Fight with Campus Newspaper”
  1. FBR says:

    Disclaimer: This is not going to be short, but THIS IS WHAT THE ENTIRE #FBR MOVEMENT IS ABOUT, FROM #FBR THEMSELVES, NOT THROUGH ANYONE ELSE::::::::::

    If you want to know what the movement is. What FBR is? What’s happening, and why you should care? Read the article below. Any questions, send it to fbrlehigh@gmail.com. If you feel like you’ve marginalized here, share your stories. Share you frustrations. Share your anger. Share your pain. Share your concerns. Share your hope for a better Lehigh. Regardless of what it is, we care about your voice. We care about your story. This is From Beneath the Rug. We are not a club. We are not an organization. We are a movement for the betterment of Lehigh’s campus. We aren’t here to argue how messages are communicated. We are here to seek positive change for a better Lehigh community. We are From Beneath the Rug #FBR

    “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”- Audre Lorde

    ————————-
    “[Lehigh] does not appreciate progress or change. A university should be forward thinking, and this is precisely why Lehigh will never be a world-class university.”(i)

    —AdInfinitum22’s response to “Why People Transfer Out of Lehigh”

    Dear Lehigh University,

    Sometimes I wonder why I came here in the first place. I am an Asian-American, and for my entire life I’ve been repeatedly denied the first half of my existence by the white middle-class suburbs I grew up in. When I came here for Diversity Life Weekend, I thought that, maybe for once, I would be accepted somewhere. You know, since Lehigh is supposedly one of the world’s “leading institutions” that believes a “community deeply committed to harmonious cultural diversity” is an “essential element of the learning environment.”(ii)

    But apparently not.

    I sit next to you in class. So did Russhon Phillips and the three other black football players who were villainized by The Express-Times and other media outlets. But this isn’t about the fight—it’s just the last straw. There have been multiple stories about the specifics, confirmed or unconfirmed usage of the word nigger, etc. circulating back and forth, so it’s pointless arguing about the details.

    The point is, this incident and its reaction are a microcosm of the larger issues on campus. If you are not a white, middle/upper-class, heterosexual, Christian/Jewish, able-bodied male, then you are a minority and most likely made to feel like one: minor. Your minority status, rather than being celebrated like it briefly is during “Diversity” Achievers Program and “Diversity” Life Weekend, is held against you and a stranger’s actions will be used to define you:

    “Often when I walk on this campus, cars drive by and yell, ‘Look at this nigga!’ then drive away laughing.”(iii)
    “I am lesbian and I don’t feel safe here.”(iv)
    “#86 I’m in the same boat as #12 and #63. I was raped for the second time in my life here and I feel like nobody would believe me because he’s in a ‘good’ house and I’m nobody.”(v)(vi)

    But these incidents are not limited to the past four years. Digging through Lehigh’s archives reveals a history of marginalization since Lehigh first opened its doors to minorities. In response to students’ protests, the administration has held brown bag discussions and enacted some changes in response—but nothing has changed. Alumni from the 80’s and 90’s visit, only to hear incidents recurring and the campus culture the same.(vii)

    For an education that we’ve earned too, we feel our voices are suppressed and we’re made to feel unsafe in a place that is our second home for four years. This is unacceptable, and we demand change.

    We are FBR—From Beneath the Rug—a united coalition of all marginalized groups that is calling attention to all the issues that Lehigh pushes “beneath the rug.” You’ve probably heard of us—Tuesday’s and Thursday’s fliers, Friday’s chalkings, Friday’s silent protest—but are unsure of what we are fighting for, given our decline to a Brown and White interview. Maybe it seems incongruous for marginalized groups to isolate themselves even further by not speaking to the largest voice on campus, but for once, we wanted to use our authentic voice and speak on our own terms, not anyone else’s:

    To the leadership of Lehigh University, we have given you a list of our demands. All of this is repeated history, and as stated in your mission statement and the Principles of Our Equitable Community:(viii) to change the world’s future, you need to change your own future. When ignoring our voices this way—what, then, does a Lehigh degree mean?

    How can you expect to raise international leaders with “effective communication as their habit,” “live by a set of mature cultural and personal values,” and “respect human dignity” when you cannot even listen to our voices? How is it possible that “all members of the Lehigh community…develop as effective and enlightened citizens” when you ignore us and deny others the opportunity of learning with us? You do so much to “recruit diversity” yet do so little to “embrace diversity.” We are not numbers to fill a quota, and we will no longer be used as tokens—we are members of the Lehigh community, and we are here.

    It is time for Lehigh to become the “leading institution” it has always claimed to be.

    Sincerely,
    Sunny Huang
    FBR

    For more information about FBR and what we are about, feel free to send questions to fbrlehigh@gmail.com or tweet us at #FBR. We welcome commentary as well; productive dialogue can achieve mutual understanding, which is essential to change the Lehigh culture.

  2. kelster says:

    Okay, I see the difficulties faced by the students at Lehigh, but the fact that they would not allow the paper to PUT INTO PRINT ON THEIR CAMPUS the very struggles they claim they face, does nothing to support their cause. It is sad that a large group of students feel the way they do on that campus, and it’s sad that they turned down media coverage of their protest. I would think any person fighting for a cause would want as many people as possible to know about their cause and would push for it to be published and marketed in as many outlets as possible. They could have “called the school out,” so to speak, by taking advantage of one of the school’s biggest information sources. LEHIGH, GET IT TOGETHER. THIS IS 2013. I think the bigger message here is that this is happening in more places than most like to admit.

  3. kelster says:

    “Yet by restricting The Brown and White from covering their event, by taking a negative attitude toward us, they contradicted their stance. They immediately formed a prejudice against our organization, a prejudice we had done nothing to deserve. The same judgmental attitude they were accusing Lehigh students of was the attitude they took toward us. They alienated The Brown and White reporters in the same way they said the rest of campus was alienating them.”

    “The Brown and White reporters were not the only individuals on campus to feel the heat of FBR’s anger on social media Friday afternoon. Other students who expressed confusion about the protest’s aims, and who claimed they had never felt discriminated against at Lehigh, were berated for their words. In protesting about not having a voice on campus, FBR was unintentionally restricting the voice of others.”

    “In addition, some of the protesters’ comments made the event into a race issue, even though the duct tape on many of the protesters’ mouths included derogatory terms not associated with race. By bringing race into the picture, members of FBR excluded other groups on campus who feel marginalized for other reasons.”

    “How can you have a protest whose aim is to foster campus-wide unity and not offer every student who feels marginalized a chance to take part? If you push people away yourself, are you not also contributing to the problem?”

    I THINK THE BROWN AND WHITE MAKES SOME GOOD POINTS HERE