Alaska Student Paper Faces Sexual Harassment Complaints Over Story, Facebook Screenshots

A University of Alaska Fairbanks professor is charging The Sun Star campus newspaper with sexual harassment over a pair of stories published this past spring.

According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, an investigation by UAF officials recently concluded the paper is not guilty of discrimination, harassment or “creating a hostile environment for women on campus.” Yet, that is not swaying the professor who brought the original complaints. She says the school inquiry was “sloppily done” and is appealing the case.

3

The prof’s ire is aimed at two stories published last April. The first was a satire included in the paper’s annual April Fools’ “Fun Star” issue. The pretend piece announces the grand opening of a new building on campus that, ahem, is shaped like a vagina. As one faux student is quoted saying, “I’m excited about the many layers of the building that will unfold upon its release.” It is an obvious riff on the dominant female enrollment numbers at the school and male chauvinism worldwide (“The world is a giant penis building”). The article is also apparently tied to a previous “Fun Star” satire on a penis-shaped campus building.

1Along with being miffed at the genitalia-architecture jokes, the professor-complainant is angry at a late April genuine news report exploring the hateful and hurtful posts submitted to the UAF Confessions Facebook page. The images embedded within the online version of the report include screenshots of actual posts and related comments. One example: a student commenter suggesting a classmate punch their possibly-pregnant roommate in the stomach to cause her to abort the fetus. As the student writes, “She’ll thank you later.”

The News-Miner: “The faculty member who filed the complaint reported the article created an atmosphere of fear in which students worried about being singled-out in the Sun Star.”

The UAF faculty senate separately sent a letter to the Sun Star requesting the removal of the vagina satire from the paper’s website and the redaction of the student names visible in the Confessions report screenshots. As the senate contended in the letter, “Whereas at least one of the [Facebook page] comments has since been removed by the moderator and the others have been scrolled into oblivion, the Sun Star reproductions preserve into perpetuity the identities of those who were unfortunate or foolish enough to appear ephemerally on UAF Confessions.”

So far, the paper has not removed or redacted anything. It did add an editor’s note atop the vagina article online confirming it is satire. (Amazingly, as my devoted readers know, that is actually not the strangest sentence I’ve written this week. #Collegemediacraycraylately)

According to Sun Star editor-in-chief Lakeidra Chavis, neither the professor-complainant nor the faculty senate spoke to Sun Star staffers prior to sending the letter or filing the charges.

4

In addition, Chavis says the prof-complainant in effect refused to accept her into a class Chavis needed to take with her this summer. After not responding to an initial email from Chavis asking if she could enroll “without fear of any related bias,” the professor instructed her to see the dean. The dean then advised her to take an online version of the class instead. Yikes. (Is Indirect Censorship spelled with a capital IC?)

As Chavis wrote at the start of the semester in an editorial headlined “On Silence and Accountability”:

“If this is the price of journalism, the price of reporting the truth, of writing satire, of freedom of speech, then it is time to re-evaluate our current expectations, perceptions and understanding of the role of media. If the price of students voicing their opinions to the dismay of faculty and staff is a limit to our educational rights, it is time for the system to reevaluate its role as a university.”

Related

Student Editor Sued for Stories Published Two Years Before She Started (Sigh)

Student Newspaper Letter Says Rape Culture a Myth, Blows Up Like ‘Hindenburg Over Jersey’

‘Booze-and-Rape Op-Ed’ in SMU Student Newspaper Stirs ‘National Controversy,’ Petition

Comments
4 Responses to “Alaska Student Paper Faces Sexual Harassment Complaints Over Story, Facebook Screenshots”
  1. “Complaints were filed…”

    With whom? The courts? If not, who cares. This is yet again another great example of why student newspapers need to ‘get out of the system’ of the universities they cover. (See also: the editor who is being sued and turned to the university for help.)

    It’s also another example of why publishing an April Fool’s issue is … foolish.

  2. Kayla Harrison says:

    Students posting in a public forum online are giving up anonymity as soon as they hit “Send”. Furthermore, the Facebook article was written to point out the destructive behavior of the Confessions page – not promoting or endorsing violence against women. We should be outraged that hateful students attend UAF, and having attended the university myself, I know that sexism is a pervasive and very real problem. There needs to be more focus on this issue, and if it has to start with a lawsuit that undermines freedom of speech, so be it. In response to Michael Westendorf: this has broader implications than mere legal proceedings; you can bet that increased censorship, potential budget cuts, and hushed voices will follow.

    I also see the hypocrisy in removing the vagina building article. . . yet the penis building was never asked to be removed.

    • “In response to Michael Westendorf: this has broader implications than mere legal proceedings…”

      That’s exactly my point.

      Campus newspapers need to get out of the systems they cover. Censorship? Budget cuts? Hushed voices? Impossible if the publication is fully independent—financially, editorially, and legally— from the university.

Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] University of Alaska Fairbanks newspaper, The Sun Star, is being sued by a professor who claims their articles promote rape culture and sexually […]