Media Ethics on College Campus

December 04, 2008

November was an emotional month for many women on my university’s campus. It all began during a Take Back the Night event, where students came together to speak openly and trustfully about their experiences with sexual harassment and rape.

Take Back the Night is a public event, and the school newspaper is allowed to attend. This year a few professors gave an extra credit assignment for students to attend and write about the event, and the best article would be placed in the school newspaper. The article that was chosen was controversial because the author directly quoted the sensitive experiences people shared at the event without their consent. Our university is a small campus, and even though the names were changed, many people who read the newspaper were still able to identify the individuals. The lack of protection for people’s privacy upset many. It also made students feel apprehensive about coming forward and sharing their sensitive sexual harassment and rape stories in the future.

In response to the article, the Coalition Against Sexual Assault group on campus held a public protest and wrote informative letters to the professors and other faculty and staff expressing why this was upsetting to students. The professors of the course stood firm on their decision to publish the article on the basis of media ethics. An ethics professor at a nearby university wrote an e-mail to the entire student body reaffirming that the school newspaper was ethically correct. In our weekly Senate meeting, the newspaper editor-in-chief read a position paper standing by her decision to publish the article. The flames from this article have burned down over Thanksgiving break; however, they have not been extinguished completely. Many students still feel concerned over the lack of permission given by the students who were directly quoted in the article.

I feel that “ethics” is a sound argument for major media, such as CNN and MSNBC. However, for a school newspaper to set aside the emotions and regards of their audience is cruel and unacceptable, especially at a small school like mine. Our newspaper is paid for by student fees, and I think an effective way to have dealt with this incident would have been for students to inform the newspaper that it could hurt their funding.

Do you think the media ethics argument is sound considering the subject matter and the audience of college students? How much privacy should an attendee of Take Back the Night or a similarly sensitive but public campus event expect? How can newspapers on campus and worldwide report on sensitive issues like rape and domestic violence without being exploitive of the victims or survivors?

This post was written by Ashlee Oliver, 2008–09 AAUW Student Advisory Council member.

By:   |   December 04, 2008

1 Comment

  1. Cindy says:

    I am sad for your campus that it has come to this. The remarks were made publicly so I am surprised at the backlash. That said, if the person who made them didn’t want them published a small campus should have listened. A college campus is not an impersonal city it is especially in the case of a small school more like a family. What is the point of hurting someone that way.

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