by Geoff Mulvihill
Two issues - Kwame Ture's speech in Finney Chapel and the College's policies on drugs - captured the passions of a lot of Oberlin this week and they're capturing a lot of ink in the Review.
The information Review writers gathered for the pieces on the debates on Kwame Ture's speech and on drugs came from two kinds of places. Some of it is from open meetings and lectures - such as Sunday's Student Senate meeting and Monday's Finney Hall speeches by Kwame Ture. The rest of the information came to us through interviews. In some cases, we sought out sources and in other cases, they sought us out. In some cases, people involved handled the press with savvy, in other cases, they did not.
Matt Holford, Ben Selman and Josh Robinson are behind the campus-wide discussion on Oberlin's drug policy. With a few others, the three of them have thrust an issue that is far from unique - a dorm eviction for drug use - into the view of the entire Oberlin community.
Soon after the students locked themselves into Holford's dorm room Saturday, Selman called me so I'd send a reporter and they'd receive as much publicity as possible. I wasn't extremely enthusiastic, but their efforts made the story impossible to ignore. When the issue gripped more and more of campus and we decided it would be a major story, we had a head start finding information.
The group has posted signs around campus that state "The War on Drugs is a war on you." And in some of those posters, they expose a major media-handling error on the part of the Student Life and Services administration. From somewhere within Residential Life and Services (a department I work for), orders came to keep the Review from covering the blockade.
Not only did that effort fail, but it gave the protesters ammunition in their battle against the Student Life and Services administration.
The Residential Life decision to attempt to bar the Review from a story - however short-lived - was not the only media relations failure this week.
I was asked to leave when I attempted to cover a meeting that was advertised at the Kwame Ture speech Monday for all Jewish students. I can understand being asked to leave; the students had a need for a space to talk about their concerns and frustrations. Anticipating being asked to leave, I arrived at the discussion several minutes before it began so I could ask if I could observe or, if not, if I could solicit the names of some participants I could talk to later.
A student at the meeting, however, under the instructions of Rabbi Shimon Brand, escorted me to the door before I had a chance to finish asking for people to talk to later. That action, while understandable in the interest of maintaining a safe space, was a setback for me in my attempt to piece together an objective piece on an important and emotional issue. And it stifled an opportunity for students to willfully speak their minds. A lot of these ideas belong in public discussion space; my job of putting them there is impossible if I don't know what they are.
And based on past experience, some of their owners are likely to be upset if our stories this week have ignored them.
Based on these two incidents I have a few tips for people who are in situations that become the news. First, it's hard for Review staffers to ignore concerns we hear clearly.
Second, it's hard for Review staffers to know concerns that people do not tell them.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 18; March 15, 1996
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