Letter from the Senior Executive Board: Why ‘He Said/She Said’ is Gone
For over two months now, a debate has overtaken the campus: was The Mirror wrong for running the controversial “He Said” column on Sept. 30? That question, brought about by a motivated, brave and offended group of students, was not a difficult one to answer. It was a mistake. The language was too harsh and while the intention was never to offend and was never to even come close to referencing rape, it did. And whether that is intentional or not, it should have been realized by The Mirror editors. Again, we apologize for making that mistake.
That language was printed with the potential to offend did not mean The Mirror should be punished and it did not mean the students should lose their right to an independent student newspaper free from the influence of the University. What it did mean was that a group of students wanted their voice heard by their student newspaper, which is an important part of the newspaper process. The paper should be the watchdog of the government and the community and the readers should be the watchdog of the newspaper.
Unfortunately, because of a myriad of issues, including confusion that was created in part by the administration, the two sides were never able to properly meet until this Saturday, when The Mirror executive board met with the students offended by the column, who had filed harassment charges with Public Safety. This delay and confusion caused two months of frustration that allowed the issue to spin out of control and away from what the protestors really wanted to do, which was get the attention of The Mirror.
Luckily, when the two sides sat down, student-to-student, the issue was settled. Both sides realized they held more in common than they originally thought. By simply fleshing out the issues, a change was made, one that The Mirror had been considering since the controversy started. In the end, mediation worked properly, but it also showed future groups that The Mirror will listen, you just have to give them a chance.
We were truly disturbed as a group to learn the effect that the words of the “He Said” column had on students. We were disheartened to learn the effects of the language we allowed to publish had on a portion of population. It was also disappointing that Chris Surette, who is in no way a reflection of the character he portrayed, suffered so much from the incident because it took so long to be resolved.
We learned from the mediation and from internal discussions that the character and limitations of “He Said/She Said” had become the problem. It was not Surette or any other writers, but the character who was stuck inside the box of “He Said,” expected to portray stereotypes instead of erase and challenge them. That is why “He Said/She Said” has been discontinued. It was not a barter deal, although the harassment charges were lifted. The charges were lifted instead because they were brought about to make The Mirror listen. Once the charges served their purpose, that is, to bring both parties together, it was sensible to both sides to have the charges dropped.
This situation has allowed us all to participate in the main goal of a university: learning. And we hope the situation can encourage more of that. The deeper issue is sexual assault and we learned that this University does not tolerate it. But some are forced to stay silent.
We want to help those people and therefore we have set a date for a Mirror sponsored Sexual Assault Awareness Week, an idea proposed in an October press release from The Mirror. The week of April 14, during National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we will work with other groups on campus and students who want to discuss the issue of sexual assault, one that is often kept quiet. It is important for us to take a negative situation and make it a positive by providing a voice to those who want to speak on the issue. We hope that those who wrote The Broken Mirror, who care enough to speak out, will be willing to share their voices in the paper that week, or anytime in the future.
We want everyone to know that The Mirror is approachable. We are always anxious and willing to hear feedback and it is important to receive that feedback so we can better serve our readers.
The issues that have arisen because of the situation, especially those about freedom of expression and The Mirror’s independence, are not what the protestors wanted to bring up on the day they came to the office in September. Unfortunately for them, that became the bigger issue on campus, which has still yet to be resolved by The Mirror and the administration. While we still heavily support our right to free speech, we understand it comes with responsibilities. And we did not act responsibly by publishing that specific column. It was not necessarily the editors’ fault or Surette’s fault. It was a position we were all forced into by the structure of “He Said/She Said,” which is why we know it has to be changed.
That is not to say that we do not want edgy, controversial and humorous columns, but we want the writers to own them, instead of having them be written in the role of a character. “He Said/She Said” pigeonholed writers into a certain viewpoint and in order to strengthen the quality of our commentary and paper as a whole, we have decided to remove the column.
The successful mediation, which forced both the editors and the protestors to wake up early on a Saturday morning and devout hours in a busy time of year to resolving the issue, was extremely positive. It was a relief to know that the protestors never wanted The Mirror to end, but just wanted their voices heard. Through this constructive dialogue, changes occurred which will accomplish our main goal: to improve our newspaper.
We appreciate the courage and willingness of the protestors to stand up for their beliefs and take action. It is important for students to make their voices heard and challenge the status quo. That is a goal both The Mirror and the protestors support. It is a positive for our organization to know that when we make a mistake or stray from our goals and responsibilities, the students will be there to help us grow.
We hope that in the future any other issues can again be settled with students talking to students, away from the administration and away from the student handbook. The Mirror always welcomes criticism and suggestions, and in this case, everything worked out for the best.
Tom Cleary Lily Norton
Editor in Chief Executive Editor
Chris Simmons Keith Connors
Managing Editor General Manager