Berea College administration targets student publication
Independent student newspaper The Berea Torch has drawn ire from Berea College officials after publishing controversial articles relaying complaints about the treatment of student workers. (Edison Angamarca / Shutterstock.com)
College administrators have called on students and staff to boycott The Berea Torch following controversial articles and communist imagery. Here’s why it’s wrong.
by Lindsie Rank
March 21, 2022
Beree College complaints censorship “is not compatible with the objectives of the College”. Apparently, this commitment does not apply, however, when the college is faced with students who act as journalists. Last week FIRE wrote Berea College explaining that it cannot simply forget its promises of free speech when the student press is involved.
The independent student newspaper The Berea Torch has drawn the ire of college officials after publishing controversial articles relaying complaints about the treatment of working students in restaurants on campus and discuss anti-abortion pamphlets allegedly distributed at Campus Christian Center.
Soon after, the college asked Ülvi Gitaliyev – an international student from Azerbaijan who co-founded The Berea Torch – to immediately stop posting flyers for publication on campus. The college also banned him from printing newspaper-related materials using campus printing services – a service Gitaliyev paid for out of his own poached.
These restrictions cannot be reconciled with the College’s commitments to freedom of expression.
These prohibitions are although the college also allows students to post flyers on campus and use campus printing services – again, a paid service.
For its part, the college argues that these bans are in place because The Berea Torch refused to apply for recognition as a registered student organization – a choice deliberately made by publication officials to avoid possible monitoring of content by middle School. Notably, the college has apparently allowed other unregistered student publications and groups, such as student publication Queer Creek Zine, to distribute material on campus without official recognition.
In a meeting with Gitaliyev, Berea officials also raised concerns about the publication’s use of communist images in its flyers, which allegedly offended some students.
Following this meeting, Gus Gerassimides, Associate Vice President of Student Life, sent an email to all Berea staff and students encouraging them to refrain from “giving interviews to Berea Torch representatives. or otherwise support group operations”. He described The Berea Torch as an “increased risk to students and the campus community. (Your estimate of the “risk” presented by an unofficial newspaper is as good as ours, but justifications for censorship based on unidentified information danger to the community should be treated as suspect. As FIRE at Explain previouslyalways look with a critical eye when officials use safety as a justification to silence the floor.)
As we wrote in our letter at Berea, whatever the college’s impulse to limit the ability of The Berea Torch and its students to spread the word and operate on campus, these restrictions cannot be reconciled with the college’s commitments to freedom of expression :
Berea cannot, without undermining its purported free speech protections, prohibit students involved in The Berea Torch from distributing literature that other students might find offensive.
Like the Supreme Court once noted, “The reaction of listeners to speech is not a content-independent basis for regulation.” An establishment that claims to maintain that “freedom of expression and an open environment in which . . . sharing information are encouraged, supported and protected” cannot tolerate this kind of censorship based on student press content.
We’ve asked Berea College to respond to our concerns by tomorrow, and we’ll keep readers informed of what they say.