EDITORIAL: No room for bigotry in our newspaper
Just as we alienated a vital component of the Brandeis community with the printing of such hurtful words, we too feel alienated after experiencing the community's reaction this past week. Hurt and anger are powerful emotions, but there comes a point where we must remember that Brandeis is an institution of learning, and only through learning and working together can we overcome this current issue, which is tearing at the very fabric of our community. As members of the Editorial Board, we have tried our hardest to express our extreme remorse and willingness to learn and change, but it is only with the help and acceptance of the Brandeis community that this can be done.
At the present time, our board has been torn apart. Whether or not the resignation of Editor in Chief Stephen Heyman '06 is warranted has been the topic of debate for days. Presently, we see this resignation as the only option to appease the many administrators and students who think it necessary, but we still believe this is the wrong course of action for Brandeis to take.
Many members of our Editorial Board attended the Student Senate meeting Sunday. Sitting there, we were horrified to witness a divide between students occur before our eyes. Never has a room felt so segregated at Brandeis and never have we felt so isolated.
That feeling of isolation intensified on Monday night as the BBSO and many other students staged a protest outside the Justice office as the Editorial Board and many other Justice staff members worked to put together our issue. The hallway directly outside the Justice office became an enclave of raw and unabashed hatred. While we recognize the students' right to protest, we were appalled at how the protest was carried out. Heyman was continually threatened and taunted and the entire Editorial Board was pegged as racist.
There was a deep sense of fear in our office that night. We feared we would never be able to walk through our campus without feeling a sense of scorn from members of our community. We feared that the sense of pride and love we felt for the community was shattering right in front of us. And we feared being pariahs for the rest of our time at Brandeis.
While the protest did not reach the level of physical violence or property damage, it was by no means "peaceful," as described by many student protesters. Students were screaming, banging on drums, pots and pans, the walls and even our windows. While we tried to continue with production, eventually the emotional strain became too great. It became ever more apparent that it had become absolutely necessary to enlist the help of the administration to placate the protesters.
Although we laud Assistant Dean of Student Life Alwina Bennett for her unending yet unbiased presence, we cannot help but feel utterly failed by the remainder of the administration. While we acknowledge the efforts of Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Jean Eddy, who was finally brought in to mediate at around 4 a.m., we felt that in the negotiations she placed the protesters' sentiments far above our own. The position we were placed in forced us to comply with demands we felt were completely unfair.
The very feelings the community should be combating have come back to haunt us tenfold. So much has been pinned on us - both as an organization and as individuals - that we are at a loss as to how to make this situation better. We have exhausted ourselves trying to appease every member of the community while allowing ourselves to remain a functioning newspaper, and as functioning people and students. We cannot help but feel that the reactions that have been directed so strongly at us are misplaced, and deserve to be directed to the larger issue at hand: racism on campus.
We still strive to be your advocate and your megaphone. We still strive to be the best newspaper we can be, not just for ourselves and our pride, but for the good of the whole Brandeis community. But we have been severely weakened by this past week, and we are left exhausted.
We still stand behind our newspaper, and those of us who remain are trying to stand as strong as possible as an Editorial Board. But we admit that we do not know the future of this paper. Our namesake, which has been a source of pride for over 54 years, is in danger, even as we put our hearts and souls into trying to save it. The future weeks will be trying for us as an organization, as well as members of the Brandeis community. We ask for your forgiveness, we ask for your understanding, but most of all, we ask you to start dealing with the greater issue of racism and the incredible need for members of this campus to start reaching out to each other.
Editor's Note: The above editorial was written Tuesday night in response to the community's reaction to "the Justice incident." What follows is our original editorial.
The Justice editorial board wishes to express its extreme regret and sincere apology for the inflammatory, spurious and racist language that appeared in the sports section of our newspaper last Tuesday. There is no place in this newspaper for the kind of offensive commentary written by former columnist Dan Passner '06. We are firm as a newspaper and as a board of editors that there never has been and there never will be any room in our pages for inflammatory rhetoric.
We would never intentionally print something like this, nor would we maliciously allow it to be printed. We are human, and we made a terrible, terrible mistake. We would like to extend our deepest and most heartfelt apologies to the entire student body and to all of our readers everywhere.
Passner resigned from the staff of this newspaper voluntarily on Wednesday, but there should be no mistake made that his words would never again find a place in this newspaper after last week's column. Had he not resigned, he would have been fired with no impunity. Upon reviewing and reviewing again the facts of how this column could have been printed and examining and reexamining the responsibilities of editors, Sports Editor Rob Siegel '04 resigned on Friday evening with the concurrence of the editorial board.
Siegel has been one of our best writers for the last three years, since his first year at Brandeis. For the last 17 issues of the Justice, he has also been one of our best editors. While the mistake he made was severe enough for his resignation to be warranted - and absolutely necessary - it would be wrong for us not to recognize the incredible level of commitment he has shown to this newspaper and to the University community.
Although the column, "Dusty Baker exposed," was entirely mired with racist rhetoric, the most despicable bit was a quotation Passner attributed to Joseph Shmulewitz '06, whom he claimed is "a noted civil rights activist."
The quotation in question is as follows: "The only thing Baker has a Ph.D. in is something that starts with an N and rhymes with Tigger, the cheerful scamp who stole all of our hearts in the Winnie the Pooh series."
We make no excuse for these words; indeed, we are appalled that such horrible words are said on this campus by students of this University. We are equally appalled and wholly accountable to the fact that these words were allowed into the pages of our newspaper, a weekly digest of articles and opinion into which every one of us puts our souls.
And while what was written appeared in a column, a medium of thought the editorial board is not bound to concur with, the fact that this column appeared in our pages is the true journalistic sin to be noted.
There is also a clear distinction to be mentioned between the right to express one's opinion and how that opinion is expressed. In Passner's case, he expressed his offensive and degrading opinion using our space, a campus newspaper whose job it is to reflect the views of the Brandeis community.
As a campus newspaper, we have the distinct obligation to echo the very ideals upon which this university was founded. By including defamatory and hurtful speech in our pages, we undermined these very ideals. This is not a matter of freedom of speech; rather, it is the conscious decision of a Justice staff member to use his words and our space to spread hate.
During the production of the Justice each and every week, editors grapple with the most difficult questions of journalistic ethics, and we seek to uphold the highest standards of ethics in making choices about even the most minute item printed. The printing of the column in question flies in the face of our processes and all of our efforts. We have failed ourselves and, more importantly, we have failed Brandeis.
The University community and the readers of the Justice deserve to know how such a breach of trust as the printing of this column could occur. While herein we seek to offer some kind of answer, our response must be prefaced. There is no excuse, and nothing written in this editorial is meant to - nor can excuse - our negligence.
Columns are usually submitted on Friday, but Passner submitted his on Monday as production of the newspaper was entering its final stages. Siegel, in a decision for which his regret cannot properly be expressed and which he surely will never cease to question, put the column into his layout without reading it and handed pages to a copy editor-in-training to evaluate.
The person who read Passner's column understood the nature of its content and marked it accordingly. Why he did not come out of his office livid at what he read, we cannot properly address. Perhaps it can be blamed on inexperience, but because he is not a member of this editorial board, no responsibility can or will be placed on him.
After editing the sports pages, they were handed back to Siegel, who handed them directly to his assistant, who was assigned with the task of putting corrections into the layout. Although he put in most of the corrections made, he did not make the most important one. We assume the culpability for the mistakes made due to inexperience.
Although the editor-in-chief is not charged with reading absolutely every column, he usually does so. But he did not read Passner's column, and that was a decision to regret as well.
Because of serious breaches of trust and dereliction of duty, it was absolutely necessary for Siegel to resign. This being said, we remain firm in our belief that the only person guilty of unholy logic and evil rhetoric is Passner himself. He is the sole person who can be held accountable for what he wrote and for quoting his friend out of context and without permission.
Siegel himself is not solely responsible for what has happened either; he is both culpable and at the same time a victim of our harried and confusing process of producing the Justice each week.
The members of this editorial board and our entire staff have worked tirelessly to improve the Justice over the past two years, both in the amount of content and in the quality of content. With that work, though, our production nights have gotten longer and our production schedule has become meaningless, and that is how this tragedy occurred.
We are now doubly committed to designing and implementing a method of production that ensures the quality of every column and inch of our newspaper. We will do this now, and not later, and we will never allow this kind of broken chain of communication and command to emerge again. We owe that, at the very least, to our readers.
We owe a lot more than simply improving our paper, however; and that is why we began a process of public accountability in a community meeting we led Thursday night in the Shapiro Campus Center. The members and allies of the Brandeis Black Student Organization (BBSO) walked out of that meeting, and we sympathize with the anger of every individual who stood up and left.
While we respect that BBSO made a statement to the community that night about their disgust with what we allowed to be printed in our pages, this kind of meeting of minds will be important down the road in helping the University community to tackle the incredibly difficult issue of racism at Brandeis. When it comes down to it, racism is what we are all most angry about in this situation. The editorial board is committed now, as we always have been, in understanding the origins of racism and doing what is necessary to purge it from our community and our lives like the plague it is.
In this issue of the Justice, we are attempting to jumpstart the process of increasing community awareness about the existence of racism here, and trying to figure out how to fix it. We have received many letters from concerned and angry community members, and we have printed them all. Two excellent Justice writers have written an unbiased and complete account also appearing on the front page of what occurred this week on campus and of the opinion of both relevant and uninvolved community members.
The editorial board has also decided to contact area journalists and ask for the assistance of a professional to help us maintain the highest journalistic standards and the future diligent production of our newspaper. We have also put under consideration the appointment of an ombudsman to evaluate and be constantly aware of the concerns of our readers, and to relay those concerns in print when necessary.
We know that none of this will be enough, and we know there is much to be done before the community can even begin to heal. But we sincerely hope that the University community will allow the Justice, with our heads lowered appropriately, to be part of that healing process.
We are taking the first steps now, writing these words and offering our remorse. But we don't want to stop here. We want more than ever to be the advocate of the community, a megaphone of printed words that can convey more than any single person, as we turn to each other to face the problem of racism on this campus and in the world at large.
The remarks printed in the Justice last week have left students feeling raw, attacked and belittled by their fellow students. And while these immediate feelings are the fault of this newspaper for allowing itself to become racism's soapbox, the deeper issue of racism here is something we as a newspaper can help to fight against.
As the Justice works toward its own organizational resolution in this situation, we hope we are also taking the first steps towards a resolution for this community. Racism is a problem not often spoken about out loud at this university, but one that is far more prevalent than most of us have understood up to this point. Now that it has been so painfully brought to light, let us finally address it as a community and begin the larger healing process that is so desperately needed.
We never meant to cause any member of this community pain. Even in our worst nightmares we could not have imagine what has happened this past week. But the past cannot be changed; we can only move forward from here. Once again, we are deeply and profoundly sorry.