RIT Officials Restrict Reporter Magazine During Festival Due to Concerns About Sexual Content

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) overlords are severely limiting the distribution of Reporter Magazine on campus this weekend. Why? Because officials fear the latest edition of the student news outlet — dubbed The Gender and Sexuality Issue — may be too racy for the roughly 10,000 schoolchildren traipsing across campus Saturday while attending the school’s annual innovation festival, Imagine RIT.

So until Monday, instead of grabbing a copy of Reporter on any of its usual array of newsstands, dissemination is being restricted to a single spot: a booth set up for the magazine staff inside the campus field house. Oh, and you also have to show valid ID proving you’re 18 or older.

The extreme nature of these limitations stems from an administrative concern that the content may be so risqué it actually falls under New York state’s definition of legally obscene. Hmm.

As the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester reports, “Bobby Colon, who is the general counsel for RIT, had recommended against distribution at the festival — telling of potential legal liability for distributing indecent materials to minors, even though he doubted anyone would be arrested. He said that of all the pictures he saw in the magazine, two drawings of genitals are potentially indecent. ‘The fact that these drawings may have come from a medical textbook does not make them any less indecent when shown to individuals under the age of 17.'”

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In response, Reporter editors are angry, criticizing the restrictions as overzealous and censorious, not legally sensible. In a special online editorial plugged on Reporter’s homepage, top staff argue passionately that “[a] journalistic publication highlighting gender and sexuality is not obscene. It’s educational, it’s informative and suppression of it is discriminatory.”

The editorial board also points out the Imagine RIT festival is not primarily for children, and that adult attendees could benefit from joining in “a dialogue about sexuality practices and preferences.” In addition, they question the obscenity argument, given the seriousness of the issue’s pursuit:

“By blocking the distribution of our Gender and Sexuality publication as obscene content, RIT’s administration directly hinders the creative spirit of the students and writers that have brought this issue into print. According to the New York State Penal Law Article 235, in order for the material to be obscene, the viewer must find that ‘… its predominant appeal is to the prurient  interest in sex … and considered as a whole it lacks serious literary, artistic, political and scientific value.’ Although our publication does display sexual organs, none are portrayed in a pornographic or ‘obscene’ manner — rather, they are displayed scientifically and informatively.”

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Otherwise, independent of state law and haggling over simply-sexual versus outright-obscene, editors are sounding the censor alarm for the manner in which this content-based restriction was rolled out. In their words:

“[D]uring the printing process at RIT’s on-campus Printing Applications Laboratory (PAL), an individual objected to some of the content of the magazine and copied the file to members of the RIT administration. The file was eventually distributed to several Reporter Advisory Board members who reviewed the magazine without the consent of Reporter. This act of prior review is highly unethical and is not in the spirit of Reporter’s bylaws … Reporter’s bylaws weren’t created for the sake of keeping up appearances or so the institute can proudly claim they support journalistic freedom; if they aren’t followed when they’re actually challenged, then what’s the point?”

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Comments
One Response to “RIT Officials Restrict Reporter Magazine During Festival Due to Concerns About Sexual Content”
  1. There are so many issues at play here:
    RIT being more afraid of a hypothetical outraged parent than it is willing to do right by the best interests of its students.
    RIT’s flimsy excuse of “obscenity” which isn’t preventing the magazine from being distributed in an unlimited capacity after Imagine RIT. Is it suddenly not obscene after Saturday?
    RIT’s willingness to censor trans and sex- positive educational content that is essential to the health and safety of college students in general, and particularly of trans individuals who experience violence at disproportionate rates.
    RIT’s willingness to attempt to control the press.

    If the Administration doesn’t want to allow the Reporter to distribute in an unlimited capacity, the Reporter should distribute informational flyers on where to obtain the magazine. Fair game, right?