Today is #StudentPressFreedom Day, a day to remind everyone of the role the student newspaper plays in a campus community. For more than three decades, student journalists have been either censored by administrators trying to exert control over their image or intimidated into ignoring controversial events or topics that might make the university look bad.
The Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier from the 1980s set precedent that allows student publications to be censored by their administration, specifically if it is part of a curriculum. The Daily Helmsman is an established public forum, which means this is a place for public expression and assembly, so we are not beholden to our administration. That does not mean in the past we have not been intimidated into suppressing stories on events or had our funding taken away, but we have prevailed through everything that has been thrown at us.
A student newspaper is vital to its university community. The local press in the Memphis area may cover what happens on this campus, but no one is as interested in it as we are. We are the only group whose sole purpose is to cover what happens in this college and its surrounding area.
Even among the other universities in Memphis, we are the only student press where our First Amendment rights cannot be infringed upon. A free student press is more or less a gift at private colleges. They are not guaranteed anything because private institutions can set their own rules on how much free expression they want to give their student body.Â
Other colleges in the area, like Rhodes College and Christian Brothers University, are beholden to their administrators. Rhodes recently had to fight to have their funding reinstated. Student presses like ours do not exist everywhere, and we are the sentinels for student interests.
I am the one making the decisions what gets put on the front page of our paper every day. I am not acting at the behest of anyone, not even a journalism professor, besides myself. I am sponsored by this university and the journalism department, but I am independent of them. This institution was created to watch over its student body.
Even though we do not always run very serious stories and have some fun working here, we all take our jobs seriously. I have been at this paper for almost three years, and I have seen it go through struggles. I have seen others who work here or have worked here receive their fair share of criticism, and I have not been immune from it myself. I have owned up to my mistakes, and I have always taken responsibility for my actions, especially when I am in the wrong. This is not all fun and games.
We have not always done the popular thing. We have defied what we have been told to do, yet we have always prevailed. It takes courage to do that. It takes bravery and faith to stand alone, but when you stand alone in your convictions for what you know is right, no one can knock you down.