Clarifying the ‘Record’s’ role

Last Wednesday, Kaleido[scopes]: Diaspora Re-imagined published a letter, co-written by Ahmad Greene-Hayes ’16 and Cinnamon Williams ’16, addressing a variety of social and political issues relevant to the College community. Several of their concerns focused on the operations of the Record, and I want to publicly respond to those concerns. Although it is not the purpose of this letter to address the other issues that Greene-Hayes and Williams explore, I will say that I believe their letter communicates a number of important shared experiences that continue to be felt on this campus and require resolution.

That said, the statements they make about the Record misrepresent our organization. Greene-Hayes and Williams contend that our “features and perspectives consistently fail to represent or consider the perspectives of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, international students, students living in poverty or students committed to the eradication of oppression in any and all forms. Even further, The Williams Record rarely considers opposing views, of even the most controversial issues, on a campus as small as ours. When it does, responses are delivered in a belated and dismissive way.” To say that we rarely consider opposing views is false, and is not based in the reality of our day-to-day operations. As editor-in-chief, I stand by our content choices and our editorial pieces. Claims that we fail to represent a diversity of perspectives, and deliver belated and dismissive responses to controversial issues, need to be backed up by evidence. If readers have such evidence, I invite them to submit a letter to the editor or meet with me. The health of a student newspaper relies on the contributions of its students. The Record is not a monolith, and we want all students to have their voices heard in its pages. If you’re dissatisfied then get involved. Write an op-ed or a letter to the editor, apply to be a member of the editorial board or just drop by on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. to discuss your concerns. It’s as straightforward as that.

The rest of Greene-Hayes’ and Williams’ criticism focuses on a letter that we photographed and posted to our Facebook page. Before I address their statements, I’ll provide some background. Following the March announcement of Chance the Rapper as the headlining performer in this year’s spring concert, a series of community discussions were held that led an anonymous party to disseminate a flyer around campus entitled “PSA: Williams College Doesn’t Care about Black People.” We photographed the flyer and posted the photo to our Facebook page. Almost two weeks later, after subsequent community discussions, another anonymous party slid a letter in response to the flyer, addressed to the Record, under our office door. We photographed the letter as we found it and posted the photo to our Facebook page with the caption, “This morning, an editor found this note slipped under the Record office’s door. The note is referencing the ‘Williams College Doesn’t Care About Black People’ flyer distributed throughout Paresky two weeks ago, a response to the campus debate over the upcoming Chance the Rapper concert.” Two days later, another anonymous party taped a letter to our office door entitled “Response to a Bigot.” We again photographed the letter as we found it and posted the photo to our Facebook page. You may still find these photos on our Facebook page, and I encourage you to do so.

Before posting these photos, we discussed the implications of doing so and considered how best to do it. We do not publish anonymous letters or op-eds, so publishing the letters in the newspaper was never part of the discussion. In fact, we went to considerable lengths to clarify that the letters were not published submissions in our newspaper. To do so, we established a considerable degree of objective distance by photographing the letters where we discovered them and by making it clear in the captions that we only found them and had nothing to do with their production. We treated the letters in the same way we would have if they had been spray-painted on our door. Their appearances were news events, and it would have been irresponsible for us to ignore them. As such, I continue to be in support of our original decision-making.

Green-Hayes and Williams present a narrative of our journalistic practices that is divorced from the truth, writing, “The anonymous Record contributor from the week before Spring Break (we are acknowledging him/her/them as (a) contributor(s) because the Record, by transitive property, published a message of hate) encouraged students ‘of African descent’ to ‘know their place’ and to be satisfied with getting ‘80%’ as our white counterparts receive ‘100%.’” First, as established above, posting a photo of a letter is not the same as publishing one in our newspaper. When we do publish op-eds and letters, it is well established that the opinions of the writers are not necessarily the opinions of the Record. This is a universal practice among newspapers.

Furthermore, we do not consider writers in our opinions section to be among our contributors. Take a look at our opinions pages and you’ll find that writers there lack the titles that are present in other sections. Every writer for our other sections has a title, the lowest being “contributing writer.” Those writers are our contributors, not the people who submit op-eds or letters, because as contributors their work is vulnerable to any and all editing. This is a meaningful distinction, because we hold the work of our contributors to a completely different standard than op-eds or letters. Basically, Green-Hayes and Williams are saying that because we reported on the anonymous writer’s letter, that writer is automatically a “Record contributor,” and we “published a message of hate.”

I hope that this has served to clarify some of our practices. We take these sorts of accusations seriously because we value both our journalistic integrity and our responsibility to promote meaningful dialogue on campus.

  • Williams Student

    You say that “claims that [the Record] fails to represent a diversity of perspectives, and delivers belated and dismissive responses to controversial issues, need to be backed up by evidence,” yet you provide no evidence that your newspaper DOES represent a diversity of perspectives. In fact, this response falls into the category of handling criticism in “a belated and dismissive way.” Your tone is patronizing and belittling, and you brush off legitimate concerns that many students in underrepresented groups hold by “invit[ing] them to submit a letter to the editor” to prove their underrepresentation. Groups of people who feel discriminated against or underrepresented should not have to prove their feelings of being left out to a predominantly white, privileged group of students at a predominantly white, privileged institution (the Record and Williams itself). In fact, I invite you to make a case for the Record. Prove to the Williams community that the newspaper does represent these groups and does consider opposing views. Show us the evidence rather than demanding it. Actually respond to the legitimate, well thought-out criticism put forward in Kaleido[scopes] with a well thought-out response rather than just dismissing opinions you don’t want to deal with.
    Do better, Record.

    • hmm

      Oh please, the criticism in Kaleido[scopes] wasn’t even close to “legitimate” or “well thought-out”. If you’re going to make such radical claims about the Record, the burden is on YOU to provide evidence as to why your criticism is warranted. So far no one has seen any. Further, I don’t think Ben is dismissing an opinion he doesn’t want to deal with, rather he’s refuting an opinion that hardly even deserves mention.

      Sometimes intellectually lazy arguments deserve patronizing responses.

      • Old, Former Bystander

        Oh my!

        After reading this, I simply invite everyone to write some biased statement and put it under The Record’s door! Seems to me that they don’t “publish” these provocative and anonymous messages/statements, but just put it on Facebook and other accessible forms of The Record for people to react to. The Editor-in-Chief doesn’t seem to understand the concept of publishing…

        If you write a statement FOR/ABOUT a certain group of people, please remember that the statement is still the AUTHOR’s statement. Posting arbitrary and anonymous notes/fliers that end up on your office door from people who are too scared to address these issues face-to-face is silly and childish. It turns a newspaper into a public forum. The mistake you made as a newspaper was letting people anonymously make provocative statements without being able to address the people who wrote them, the authors, in a direct and effective way. Now student groups and organizations are antagonizing each other because people who were too scared to say something with their own mouths ran up to The Record to shout it out for them with a huge ass megaphone across campus. Soultion? Don’t publish anything by anonymous authors anymore.

    • whoop

      there it is

  • pfft

    How could you say that the criticism in Kaleido[scopes] wasn’t legitimate? To what degree are you going to silence your fellow peers? To what degree are you going to throw the label “angry minority” just because a student with a minority background is talking about issues like race, class, and gender?

    Frankly, Greene-Hayes and Williams provided more than enough evidence about the claims made about the Record. It was inappropriate of the Record to publish any and all of these such notes on a public Facebook page without at least staying that they were, in no way, condoning those messages. It’s akin to the Record taking a photo of the hate message on Prospect basement and publishing it so nonchalantly. There are more appropriate venues than your Facebook page with which you could have shared those notes–i.e. the administration. Dean Bolton. Dean Dave. Dean Reyes, for crying out loud.
    Why photograph graffiti you don’t care about or connect to? Why publish it? Exactly.

    How can you be offended because someone said they found something offensive?

    And why are you so desperate to defend a fucking school newspaper when there are bigger things at play here? Can’t you drop the Record for just a minute and think about the culture and attitude propagated by subtle microaggressions? Can’t you think of your peers more than you think of your resume?

    And “rather he’s refuting an opinion that hardly even deserves mention.” Oh please, of course the minority and dissenting opinions need not be voiced. Of course they should be silenced.

    Ben, you need not be so snide. Did you really have to write “this is a universal practice among newspapers?” Did you really have to pull this to the forefront when there’s so much more that we should be talking about? This isn’t constructive in the long run. Please, be more respectful. You don’t have to pull out your arms just because you feel *personally* attacked in a blogpost that’s addressing issues larger than yours.

  • wut

    Jesus H. Christ. Are we really at the point when the practice of journalism itself is under fire?

    “It’s akin to the Record taking a photo of the hate message on Prospect basement and publishing it so nonchalantly.”
    I hope they would have done this, because journalism.

    Why photograph graffiti you don’t care about or connect to? Why publish it?”
    Because journalism.

    “And why are you so desperate to defend a fucking school newspaper when there are bigger things at play here?”

    …Because journalism.

  • yeah I’m not deanoning on this mess of a comment section

    I think what disappoints me is that the Record often doesn’t seem to reach out for other perspectives when they do publish controversial op pieces. In most newspapers, it’s common practice to try to get both sides when you publish something. For instance, as a RASAN member, I would have a message from the Record along the lines of “hey, we’re publishing a piece that’s criticizing the way your group does things, would you like to clarify your role?” That way both pieces can be published at the same time, and the opinions page becomes a place for debate and exchange of ideas.

    • Same

      YES. Thank you.

  • lol

    At least the Record has a comment on which you all can vent your ish.

    Because, you know, discussion and stuff.

  • hmmm…

    really wish you guys would either make a case for the diversity of your staff, or admit that it’s lacking. perhaps the staff really IS diverse. however the impression i’ve gotten from facebook/instagram and the grapevine is that there’s core clique of preppy kids, mostly white, many wealthy, many of whom went to expensive schools. i’d love to be wrong, but that’s really the impression i get both from social connections and from the stuff they write.