FIRE in Fairbanks: Video Report Explores ‘Chilling Effect’ of Student Press Fight
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has posted a new video outlining the lasting “chilling effect” related to one of the odder, more sustained college media fights in recent semesters.
As I previously posted, a University of Alaska, Fairbanks, professor waged a dogged 10-month campaign against The Sun Star student newspaper for publishing a pair of stories in April 2013 that she believed “constituted sexual harassment and created a hostile work environment.”
The first article was a satire included in the paper’s annual April Fools’ “Fun Star” issue. The pretend piece announced 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 was also apparently tied to a previous “Fun Star” satire on a penis-shaped campus building.
Piece two: a 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 noted at the time: “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 paper requesting the removal of the vagina satire from its website and the redaction of the student names visible in the Confessions report screenshots.
In response, the paper has not removed or redacted anything. It did add an editor’s note atop the vagina article online confirming it is satire.
That was not enough for one UAF professor. She filed a complaint with the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. It was rejected. She then filed a complaint under the auspices of Title IX, which UAF was forced to look into by law. Again, it was rejected. So the professor appealed, calling the school inquiry “sloppily done.” UAF hired an investigator to conduct his own review. His stance mirrors the school’s: There is no basis for the complaint and nothing sexually harassing about the content.
A new FIRE video report put together by Susan Kruth explores the impact of the investigation on Sun Star staff. As Kruth confirms, “This past spring, I flew all the way over to Fairbanks to speak with then-editor-in-chief Lakeidra Chavis, former editor-in-chief Elika Roohi and faculty adviser Robyne about the details of the case and the chilling effect the investigation had on the newspaper.”