The Hoya: The Persistent Saga of College Newspapers and Race

The Editor-in-Chief of The Hoya, a Georgetown University student newspaper, wrote a column assessing the racial aftermath of a Hoya editorial decision giving minimal coverage for a on-campus student event protesting the Jena 6 issue (placing it in a News in Brief on 9/21/07), while prominently covering a protest against rules restricting alcohol consumption on campus. [Note: See Hoya articles related to this point here, here, here, and here. A student columnist wrote a column explaining that he did not want to write about the issue out of fear of being considered a racist (see my posts under The Hoya category in the right column for my previous post related to this column).]

The assignment of writers and placement of the two stories were not accidental, Hoya editors decided how to cover the two stories. It just so happened that some of The Hoya’s readership disagreed with The Hoya’s editorial judgment.

The Hoya’s Editor-in-Chief does acknowledge that his staff’s social connections largely determine staffing and coverage.

The fact is, THE HOYA is an unfortunate reflection of the divides that pervade this campus. If you were to put every member of our staff and each of their closest friends in a large room, some minority groups wouldn’t be represented too well.

And for an under-resourced student newspaper where social connections play a large part in determining both our recruitment and our coverage, it’s a problem. Especially since we’re the organization with the best opportunity to promote racial dialogue on campus.

This problem is a direct reflection of the fact that it’s often difficult to find a lot of meaningful interaction between those of different ethnic and social groups on campus.

This is how the lack of coverage of the on-campus Jena Six student event occurred. Sadly, if the coverage of campus news depends on knowledge of a person on the Hoya staff, what happened with the Jena 6 story will happen again.

In addition, The Hoya’s Editor-in-Chief noted that the lack of coverage partly is a result of The Hoya’s organizational dependence on Georgetown University.

If we were a non-profit corporation independent from Georgetown University, we would eventually be in a better position to attract a more representative staff, since our current relationship with the university does not permit us to adequately compensate staff members.

I do not know anything about The Hoya’s financial affairs, but I do not believe that independence from Georgetown University will be the miracle cure. The Cavalier Daily, an independent newspaper of the students of the University of Virginia (UVa), also has had a racial controversy (in 2002) involving a disagreement of the interpretation of a off-campus party between the mostly White student staff and Black UVa students.

[…] A black student, who happens to be the new student member of the Board of Visitors, wrote about what he viewed as a racist party, and what does he get for his effort? A white Cavalier Daily columnist attacking his view.

One reader complained about the turn of events but did not focus on the racial aspect. He pointed out that the tone of the response column sent the message of “Sure, we take guest columns, but then our columnists can humiliate you in print.” Given the subject matter and the respective races of the two authors, The Cavalier Daily came out looking bad.

I have emphasized before that columns represent the opinions of their authors, not the opinion of The Cavalier Daily. But when a black student opens the opinion section and consistently sees a lot of non-black faces spouting off about racial matters, I start to understand why black students feel frustrated with The Cavalier Daily as an organization. […]

The Cavalier Daily’s Ombudsman for 2001-2002, Matthew Branson, wrote about the problem The Cavalier Daily had in attracting Black staffers.

In my 1993-94 Cavalier Daily staff photo, there are about 70 people. One is black. Today’s staff also has a very low number of blacks. Why is this the case, year after year? […]

[…]

The vicious cycle has proved hard to break. The Cavalier Daily does not have many black staffers. Therefore, black viewpoints are not regularly represented in the newspaper. Therefore, blacks do not join because they feel The Cavalier Daily is not a “black-friendly” organization. Result: The Cavalier Daily does not have many black staffers. Repeat.

The Hoya is not alone in facing this issue. The racial issue facing The Hoya is systemic. Hopefully, the Editor-in-Chief’s ideas (not including independence) will help The Hoya to begin to address the situation.

Post Script:

The Hoya’s Editor-in-Chief stated in his column that his publication and staff is not racist because they do not favor one race over another. This is a rather limited definition of racism as one does not have to hate Black people overtly to discriminate (see the ABC’s Primetime Live 1992 story, “True Colors” (Author’s Note: I cited this program in a previous post), for an example). The overwhelming White majority in the United States also guarantees that the races can never be truly equal.

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