September 29, 2016

Controversial quotes inspire social conscience

On Tuesday, Oct. 28, a picture of the latest copy of Missouri State University’s (MSU) student-produced newspaper, The Standard, made the rounds on social media. The front page was printed in black, the top half filled with quotes from MSU students like “Go back to Ferguson!”, “F*** you all,” and even ones with racial slurs.

My jaw dropped; I couldn’t believe a newspaper would print that. At first I thought it was insensitive and careless. It appeared to be sensationalizing an issue very sensitive to a lot of people. But then I realized it really wasn’t.

The Standard front page

A screenshot of The Standard’s front page feature story.

The idea behind sensationalism is using shocking words or events at the expense of accurate reporting. So if the story is accurate, does it justify printing those quotes so boldly?

The front page story accompanying the controversial quotes covered an incident involving protesters and their opposers before the MSU homecoming game. The protesters’ silent demonstration against police brutality, called “Homecoming Blackout,” was met by angry students, whose reactions were quoted on the front page.

The story was, by all accounts, well-written. It represented both sides and summarized the issues at hand. This goes past the controversy of them printing an inappropriate headline — it’s bigger than that. The decision to print those quotes was to get a conversation going, and it was meant to incite change.

The Standard’s Twitter showed their front page received a pretty big reaction. Feelings on Editor-in-Chief Trevor Mitchell’s and the rest of editorial board’s decision to print this were mixed. Some defended the paper by saying they were printing the truth; others agreed with my initial thoughts — that it was done in bad taste.

I was especially surprised to learn how MSU’s administration reacted. MSU President Clif Smart said he cringed when he picked up The Standard, but the administration wouldn’t censor a student paper. Nothing else was said.

According to reports by USA Today and KSDK, The Standard reached out to the protesters who were verbally attacked who supported the quotes being printed.

It may not have been the editors’ main intention, but printing those words on the cover made me conscious of the words I use and what weight they carry. Although I don’t use racial slurs, I’m now even more aware of others’ use of them and how they perpetuate inequality.

It’s something we don’t think about every day, but looking at The Standard’s front page and seeing the reactions to it show that saying these words is not okay. They essentially made a very positive statement by deciding to print those quotes, and it’s a lesson we can all take away from this.

It might be a double standard to support this decision even though I fundamentally disagree with the idea, but it’s all about context. In this situation, it was probably justified, and I think it took a brave group of people to make that decision. For that reason, I’m glad The Standard’s editors had the balls to put this on their front page.

View The Standard‘s controversial front page here

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