We often joke in The Mirror office that there are a lot of people on campus that will be happy to know that this is my final issue at the paper. In just my last year as Editor-in-Chief, we’ve covered some amazing stories and in doing so revealed many issues and inequities within the University. In doing that, our viewership has skyrocketed. Not only do we have thousands of additional views a month on our website, but I no longer have to throw out stacks of unread newspapers on my delivery route. For the first time in my four years at the paper, students are really reading it, and in doing so, they’re learning things the University would rather hide.
Take our most recent series of Black Lives Matter articles. Last week, the entirety of my Social Justice Literature class was spent discussing the first article on the flag’s removal and its connection to what we were learning. As a senior, and member of The Mirror, the stories regarding President Mark Nemec’s, Ph.D. ineffective letter in the Summer of 2020 and the “Ghetto Party” of 2016, were nothing new to me. But, to these first-year and sophomore students who had only consumed the marketing materials dispersed by the University, this was a shock.
This wasn’t a shift that happened overnight. It has honestly taken blood, sweat, tears and a lot of sleepless nights to get The Mirror’s reputation back to an actual true example of an organization that is “For the students, by the students.”
I’d say it all started in the summer of 2020. At this time, the peak of COVID-19 caused people to be filled with worry and unease. Schools were shifting online for the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year or sending plans regarding reopening while complete radio silence came from Fairfield. So… bored out of my mind and laying in my childhood bedroom I began sending emails. I interviewed professors and administrators, read through hundreds of pages of Academic Council Meeting minutes and published my first Investigative piece, “Stags Come Home: Who’s Actually Making the Decisions for Reopening in the Fall?” and would later work on another long-form piece that summer about Fairfield’s budget gap.
It was then that I discovered that The Mirror could be more than a club, and rather an opportunity to learn journalism skills- we could be a true voice for the student body.
In my junior year, I slowly began writing piece after piece for the News section, but it wasn’t until I became Editor-in-Chief that I truly began to see the shift in our content. We covered the future of the Pass-Fail policy after interviewing professors and reading through pages and pages of the Academic Council Meeting notes. We covered students’ overall disappointment in the Office of Residence Life, from the forced triple situation to the lottery pick times for Sophomore students to their treatment of the Residence Assistants.
What’s been interesting about all of this is the University’s reaction to it. Though it’s unsurprising that they weren’t overjoyed over The Mirror’s new mission, almost immediately doors started closing for us on who we could talk to.
In October of 2021, we published an article regarding the fact that the University was charging $200 a night for quarantine housing and we were starting to reach out to sources regarding the University’s proposed “Bellarmine College” program. Two days later an email was sent out to administrators from Jennifer Anderson, vice president of Marketing & Communication at Fairfield University, regarding communications with The Mirror. A University employee who received the email released it to The Mirror.
Anderson stated, “Over the last week, it has come to my attention that The Mirror has outreached to several of you and/or your teams regarding information on strategic initiatives or programs under development/consideration.”
“As we do with all media, the Mirror should be following the same process of reaching out to our public relations team for comment” Anderson stated, adding, “It is important that as we consider responses, we consider messaging that supports our overall efforts and positions responses in a way that best represents efforts in the broader context of our University goals, objectives and pillars,” She continues, “This also helps with consistency and factual accuracy.”
She ended her statement with, “If you or your team receive inquiries from the Mirror or any media outlet, let’s discuss responses before responding back to the reporter. Collectively, we can determine the best approach.”
In conversation with Anderson at the time, she stated that this policy wasn’t new and that it has been, “… something that has been in place and discussed with Mirror editors annually” but added that COVID-19 disrupted this.
As someone that’s written for The Mirror for almost four years, including two years without COVID-19 influence, I’ll state that this is my first knowledge of such a policy. Anderson may have looked through some administrators’ comments before they got sent to us, but never were we blocked from communicating with administrators directly.
But, quite quickly, this is what we stumbled into. Almost immediately all emails sent to administrators went unanswered and Anderson was the only respondent.
This had almost the opposite impact that I think Anderson and the administration at large wanted. Our work didn’t stop, and it almost gave us a boost knowing that all of this work was actually having an impact. We continued to write articles highlighting issues within the university and raising up student voices. With me leaving, this mission will not end. There’s a new fire in that little office in the Lower Level of the Barone Campus Center. They’ve seen that The Mirror can be a platform to empower students, hold the administration accountable and uncover what’s actually happening within the university behind the marketing department’s varnish.
The Mirror is a new paper, and I just know that they’re going to do amazing things long after I graduate.