Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Oh, Controversy - A Somewhat Inside Perspective

The semester, hard to believe, is nearly at its halfway point, and if I had to pick one word to describe it, that word would be Controversy, with a capital C. Thus, I thought it might be interesting to list some of the major disputes and events that were not approved of by many on campus.

On September 2, just as the school was recovering from the unexpected death of a student, my editor and chief at Triangle, Cat, published our first opinion piece, objecting to perceived abuses of authority by RAs, using a specific example that she had witnessed regarding a heated exchange between two RAs and a commuter. While the parties involved were kept anonymous, it still generated a large amount of controversy and judgment (which was more against the editorial than the RAs judging by letters to the editor) on campus that continues even to the present with the RAs being forbbiden to comment on the piece, several of them forming a pact to not speak to Triangle about anything, ever again, letters to the editor pouring in, and more letters attacking previous letters pouring in atop those.

The night of the day that that editorial was posted, an event occurred that was so shocking (at least for Bryan College) that it took more than a week for us to figure out what actually happened. I first heard about the incident in which a group of Bryan Students were flashed by an obese women in the back of a van driven by men wearing clown masks from another student while sitting down for lunch during one of my very infrequent visits to the cafeteria. While it was second hand, and seemed too ridiculous to be true, I decided that it had to be a story, and started following up on it that very afternoon. I found one of the few people whom I had been told was in the group of students and asked him if he would be willing to give me an interview and put me in touch with some of the other students. He confirmed he was there, agreed, rather enthusiastically, and gave me his number. When I sent him a text a few hours later though to set up a time, he backed out, and said that furthermore, he didn't think we should even publish a story about it because of "negative connotations" that might arise from it. I told him I felt we were obligated to publish it, if only to inform students of what had happened so that they could know how to respond (or not respond) if it happened to them. He was adamant though, and I moved on to look for other sources.

The same thing happened over and over. I would talk to one person who would confirm they were there, agree to an interview, and then text me back an hour or so later saying that they had changed their mind about the whole thing. It got to be pretty frustrating, and a little bit creepy after a while, and I almost thought I'd have to drop the whole thing.

Then one person who refused in the manner mentioned above, tipped me off to two people they thought might be willing to talk. I found them, and they were. In fact, they were a little more willing than I had anticipated. I learned with a certain amount of chagrin, (and I have all of this audio recorded, which I had asked permission to do, making it especially ironic later when both of the sources claimed that they hadn't known they were being interviewed or that I had any intention of quoting them directly) that the students had been on make-out patrol––a somewhat institutionalized prank in which students walk or occasionally drive around at night with flashlights and "preach the Word" to couples who they find becoming physically affectionate in the darkness––at the time when the event occurred. Furthermore, rather than being stalked by the clowns driving the van with the flasher as the original rumor that I heard said, they had actually been in communication with the clowns for at least a minute or so before the flashing occurred.

By the time I was done with the first interview, I knew the article was going to be a lot more controversial than I had previously thought (or hoped) and by the time of the second one, I was genuinely somewhat perplexed at what I knew I would now be obligated to write if I were to tell the whole story. In the end though, I decided I had to, and brought my paper to our weekly meeting that night. When my editors and adviser read it, they were as shocked as I was, but were even more intrigued by the concept of "make-out patrol" which many of them had never heard of before. The idea came up that I should make it into more of an editorial piece about make-out patrol. I said I wouldn't be comfortable with this, so it was decided that I would keep mine, if not as an unopinionated news story, then at least as a less opinionated news feature. An editorial, however, would be written, by Shane Vicry, to accompany my piece in our first print edition that very week.

The print edition came out, and all hell pretty much broke loose. I, for better or worse, happened to be in Chicago at the time for a conference, but was forwarded some of the ensuing letters to the editor that came in almost immediately from everyone from concerned freshman to the people I had interviewed claiming they didn't know they were being interviewed––which is nonsense on stilts––to people I had named claiming that I had promised not to name them––which, were it even permissible in a news feature, is an outright lie. 

While I managed to be out of town for the peak of it, the controversy has continued to simmer, with people still bringing it up to me on occasion (almost a month later!) and a recent letter to the editor being published in which the concerned writer calls my story "half-accurate" without ever saying how it was so, states that the parties interviewed were "completely unaware of the fact that they were being interviewed" (which I find to be quite puzzling since I clearly said I was with Triangle and asked them if I could tape-record their answers––and they agreed) and finally refers to the action of driving around campus with the windows rolled down shining flashlights and yelling at people as a "private area of our student body" which should not be talked about in public. 

As if all this wasn't enough to happen before fall break, the student body just found out, by means of the trickle-down effect, that the administration is considering cutting fall break down to two days (starting next year obviously). What is upsetting many people (meaning the majority of campus) isn't so much the proposal (which would mean that going home for break would be impossible for anyone who lives more than ten hours away––and there are many of us here) but the borderline conspiratorial way in which they have tried to ram it through.

They never officially announced this to the student body, or even many of the faculty for that matter. Then is the timing. They will make the final decision on it the day before break, so anyone who is upset about it will have to wait until after break to voice their concerns. Then there is the coincidence that this is the week when both of the faculty who represent the student government happen to be out of the country on prearranged trips for the school. Then there is the issue that when SGA finally found out about it through the grape vine and scheduled a meeting with the president, he postponed it until after the deadline, ensuring that they would have no direct voice and reducing them to getting signatures on a petition.... something that historically hasn't been too effective around here. We just got an article out about it, which I hear is quite good, but I actually haven't read myself, because it was posted as I was writing this.

So, that is a brief chronicle of the controversies surrounding the first half of the semester. I won't speak for anyone else, but I am rather ready for fall break––even if it's the last full fall break that Bryan has. 


Lindsay Eryn said...

Ugh. This is insane. What a crazy HALF of a semester this has been for you gys!

Good job on keeping with your writing, reporting, and integrity, Andrew. Keep it up.

Andrew said...

Thanks Lindsay! :)

Halifirien Pilgrim said...

Wow, that's a lot of upheaval in such a short amount of time. You are handling it wisely. I hope the rest of Bryan does soon too.

Andrew said...

I hope I'm handling it wisely. Not always sure, but that's what I try for.

Isaac said...

hey andrew, your newest post is 'not found' by the computer, I switched browsers so I don't know if anyone can see it, just thought I'd let you know! :)