The decision by a local high school to censor the student newspaper was unjustified and sends a terrible message, writes Sammy Rich.
At a student newspaper, there is always potential for conflict between First Amendment protections and accountability under a school’s code of conduct.
For the most part, this isn’t an issue – until something crosses the line from “journalism” into “vulgarism.” Recently, The WestSide Story - the Skyline High School newspaper I co-edit – experienced the clash of these two entities.
Our latest issue was the annual art edition, where we publish art from students across Skyline and from a variety of mediums. This year, however, the paper was pulled because the principal was concerned that people may be offended by the language used in one piece of art.
The sad humor of this action is that the piece in question was an advertisement poster made for a student’s senior project. It talked about how bullying and words can kill. Ironically, our paper being pulled because of this piece shows that words do kill.
The most upsetting part of this ordeal is restricting artists from expression not only censors the person who created the art, but also the school as a whole. Bullying has been a horrible, gruesome beast in high school that has never been truly combated. It has been propelled further with the ever-growing abundance of social media. Many of the words depicted in the poster have been used at Skyline. Censoring this piece of art diminishes people who have faced bullying. We are telling them their strife was no big deal. “Don’t worry,” we are saying to them, “words may kill but we can’t have people offended by reading these words!”
As someone who has faced bullying, I found the censorship offensive and ridiculous. It is true people are bound to be offended when reading vulgar language, but that was the intent of the piece. This student’s project was meant to invoke emotion in the person seeing it, and to try to get them to understand the pain of name-calling. I, as the editor of the paper, let this piece of art run because I saw the purpose behind it. This student did not mean to offend, but to inform.
Our paper has been lucky because it has not faced extreme restraint in the past. In 2003, an entire section of the newspaper focused on safe sex was pulled. That was a long time ago and we have been very fortunate.
But the censorship we faced this year is unjustified. I know of no students that have complained about the wording in the poster and the intent behind the piece still resonates. Bullying is a dastardly behavior that carries serious repercussions.
This censorship doesn’t change that fact. And journalists need to be willing to show people the truth, lest nobody else will.