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Friday, Aug 12, 2022

Notes from the desk: Racism, journalism and our role

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and the other acts of cruelty and merciless killing we have seen are but a sliver of the full scope of the systemic and constant violence that Black Americans face — and have faced throughout history. Black Americans continue to be the target of a carnage characterized by impunity, which includes the recent death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and the still-unprosecuted death of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, among countless others.

Before anything else, we are all forced to ask ourselves what role we play in perpetuating a system that leaves room for such injustices. These reflections are not meant to be comfortable. They are not meant to be stagnant. To be anti-racist is not an achieved state of being, but rather a commitment to fighting complacency in your every motion. 

As a media outlet dedicated to informing the Middlebury community and uplifting its voices, we have a responsibility to engage in this fight with everything we publish. We recognize dissatisfaction with national media coverage of the ongoing protests and cases of violence against Black communities, and we have our own frustrations about which protests and events are covered — and how. 

Peaceful protests aren’t sensational, but they matter. And when news outlets gratuitously cover violence, looting and rioting while neglecting to thoroughly document peaceful demonstrations and the messages behind current movements, they lose deeply important context about what is happening in America right now. Even worse, they contribute to an inherently negative framing of protestors and obfuscate the intentions of protest movements. To meet our standards of reporting, we commit to coverage of protests that is multifaceted and message-focused.

We have a commitment to the truth, but truthful narratives hinge upon those who get to speak them. This involves actively seeking the sources that matter most when it comes to telling those stories. Right now, it requires amplifying the voices of the Black community in our coverage, especially when it comes to Black-led national and campus initiatives, activism and protests.

Furthermore, the violence against protestors calls for a reevaluation of the conventional standards of journalism. While the purpose of photos is to document events, we recognize that they can be weaponized by police forces — and that Black and Brown protestors are particularly vulnerable. Thus, going forward, we plan to prioritize the safety of protestors by omitting photos of Black Lives Matter and related protests that can be used to identify individuals easily. 

But police brutality only scratches the surface of the institutional racism deeply entrenched in American society — one underpinned by political and economic structures that disenfranchise Black Americans and other people of color. These structures of marginalization are pervasive — and their existence at Middlebury is no exception. More importantly, they will persist long after protests leave the news cycle and Instagram stories sharing anti-racism resources expire.

Not long ago, The Campus had also been an institution that played a role in perpetuating these inequalities at Middlebury. Only four years ago — in 2016 — a group of cultural organizations sent an email to the entire student body condemning The Campus for failing Middlebury’s marginalized communities.

Organizations have a responsibility to address internal racism and bias — and The Campus is no different. We recognize that we as an organization, and as a platform, can do more to uplift the voices that often go unheard. As we begin our summer coverage, we invite you to point us in the right direction, inform us of the gaps in our coverage and share your perspectives with us. 

The burden of making our coverage more inclusive also shouldn’t lie solely with underrepresented communities. In the coming weeks, we plan to reach out to the leaders of cultural organizations in an effort to begin dialogues that we hope will continue throughout the school year — and beyond. We also welcome you to share with us other proactive measures we can take. 

The Campus is meant to serve as a forum for all voices — and not just in the Opinion section. While we encourage op-ed submissions from the student body at all times, there is space for your voice on every page. The Campus invites new writers and reporters to join any section, whether in News, Local, Arts & Culture or Sports. But we also welcome you to submit a letter to the editor, where we hope you will speak out against anything you feel we did wrong, missed or need to improve upon.

As a publication, we must continue to recognize that anti-racism is not a status that is conferred. Rather, it’s a series of deliberate decisions that we must make every day and consider with each issue we publish. We hope you’ll hold us accountable. 

Bochu Ding ’21, Hattie LeFavour ’21 and Riley Board ’22 comprise The Campus’ executive team.

Riley Board

Riley Board '22 is the Editor in Chief of The Campus. She  previously served as a Managing Editor, News Editor, Arts &  Academics Editor and writer.

She is majoring in Linguistics as an Independent Scholar and is an English minor on the Creative Writing Track.

Board has worked as a writer at Smithsonian Folklife Magazine and as a  reporter for The Burlington Free Press. Currently, she is a 2021-2022  Kellogg Fellow working on her linguistics thesis. In her free time, you  can find her roller skating in E-Lot or watching the same sitcoms over  and over again.