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Alternative Voices on Campus

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  • Dan Clore
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Alternative Voices on Campus By Emma Ruby-Sachs and Timothy Waligore The Nation February
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 9, 2003
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Alternative Voices on Campus
      By Emma Ruby-Sachs and Timothy Waligore
      The Nation
      February 4, 2003

      Vanderbilt University in Tennessee is a traditionally
      conservative school. The majority of students support
      President George W. Bush, according to Jay Prather, editor
      of the Vanderbilt alternative newspaper Orbis, and there has
      been no significant antiwar demonstration on campus since
      Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech in January 2002. But that
      doesn't mean there is no voice of dissent. The November 20,
      2002, edition of the Orbis led with a story about Iraq's
      acceptance of a UN deadline for arms inspection, reporting
      that "the outcome was an achievement of a new form of
      American assertiveness which is founded as much on military,
      economic and political dominance as it is with the merit of
      its arguments or shared principles." Amanda Huskey, an
      editor at the Orbis and the author of the piece, says she
      has found a forum for her antiwar sentiments in the paper.
      "The paper invites different voices to share their views
      that otherwise might not be represented or heard," she says.
      "It allows me to write outside the box while hopefully
      generating public dialogue and debate."

      Alternative campus publications have become an important
      venue for people like Huskey: progressive students looking
      for a chance to be heard. Despite the often high level of
      intellectual debate among college students, in many areas of
      life they are just starting to figure it all out. Political
      opinions are forming and campus newspapers are framing the
      debate. For students, the campus media are their first and
      often only news source. For progressive students, the
      alternative campus media are also an important rallying
      point. Progressive opinion journals on campus bring students
      together, creating a movement from a scattering of newly
      formed notions about how to make the world a better place.

      Progressive publications have been galvanized in recent
      years by antiglobalization protests, the Ralph Nader
      campaign, reaction to September 11 and the prospect of war
      in Iraq. Today, the presence of progressive media on
      campuses is an important asset for movements challenging
      sweatshop labor, undemocratic global institutions and campus
      worker exploitation. The establishment campus media's
      pretensions to objectivity generally stop them from pursuing
      activist goals and providing in-depth coverage of issues
      important to progressives. The best campus alternative
      papers, by contrast, can weave a surprisingly large amount
      of intellectual and philosophical debate into typical
      journalistic content. Jenny Stepp, former editor of the
      Boiling Point at the University of North Carolina, explained
      that "post-9/11, it was really important to get out there
      and present the left idea of things and explain why, instead
      of just saying no [to war].... One of the publication's most
      important functions is to provide that forum."

      But alternative papers like the Boiling Point are
      struggling, and progressives off campus have been slow to
      harness this powerful tool. The papers lack support from
      prestigious alumni and foundations. Conservatives, by
      contrast, have long paid attention to college papers. For
      two decades, organizations like the Collegiate Network and
      the Leadership Institute have channeled conservative money
      and support to a network of campus newspapers, now numbering
      about eighty nationwide [see sidebar]. Alumni of
      conservative campus periodicals fill the ranks of think
      tanks and Capitol Hill offices as well as journals of
      opinion and other media outlets. For Dinesh D'Souza, as for
      many conservative pundits and authors, his political
      education began while working on a college paper, in his
      case The Dartmouth Review. "It was my first exposure to
      conservative ideals," D'Souza says. Karen Paget, a
      contributing editor at The American Prospect, writes:
      "Conservative funders pay meticulous attention to the entire
      'knowledge production' process. They think of it in terms of
      'a conveyer belt' that stretches from academic research to
      marketing and mobilization, from scholars to activists."

      Alternative campus papers can stimulate people to move their
      thinking in new directions, put topics on the campus agenda
      and shift campus discourse to the left. As one example, in
      summer 2001, the liberal Dartmouth Free Press obtained a
      copy of the college's report on institutionalizing diversity
      the weekend before it was to be released. By that Monday,
      the Free Press had produced an entire issue devoted to
      in-depth analysis and opinion pieces from many different
      perspectives, a day before a short article appeared in the
      campus daily. The Free Press illustrates that a separate
      publication devoted to opinion journalism can make a much
      greater impact than a few scattered op-eds in the
      established daily paper.

      Alternative publications also help create a sense of shared
      community. As arguments are articulated and defended,
      students who are sympathetic to progressive views or are
      uncertain become more engaged in intellectual development
      and strengthen their beliefs. According to Orbis editor
      Prather, "At Vanderbilt it takes a special effort to find a
      liberal viewpoint." Students with progressive views often
      experience a sense of political isolation and retreat into
      specific identity groups rather than aligning themselves
      with the generalprogressive movement. Eric Young, a
      marketing consultant for progressive social justice
      organizations across North America, warns that "so often
      people who want to be fighting the good fight cluster into
      identity groups. They lose sight of those end goals and
      become fixated on the boundaries of their individual group."
      Alternative publications like Orbis become a rallying point,
      and with a more cohesive left community comes a chance for
      campuswide progressive discussion.

      One major problem for alternative papers is that most are
      dependent on university funding. Since they tend to devote a
      large part of their efforts to criticizing the same
      administrations and student government officials that hand
      them money, what results is often an adversarial situation.
      Sonya Huber, former staff member at the Center for Campus
      Organizing, the founding organization of the Campus
      Alternative Journalism Project, points out that "a
      publication will say something to upset the university
      president and their funding goes right down." The Messenger
      at City College of New York, after publishing an
      investigative story exposing the university's secret
      surveillance of students with hidden cameras, found itself
      declassified from an "official graduate publication" to an
      "undergraduate club" with less funding available.

      At Governor's State University in Illinois, the dean of
      students demanded to review the Innovator before it went to
      press, after it had been running articles critical of the
      administration. Editors Jeni Porche and Margaret Hosty and
      staff reporter Steven Barba responded by bringing a legal
      challenge against the school. The school's defense rests on
      an interpretation of the Supreme Court decision Hazelwood
      School District v. Kuhlmeier, concerning high school control
      over an in-class publication. The Innovator's challenge has
      yet to be decided, leaving open the possibility that the
      university-funded Innovator could be considered a nonpublic
      forum and thus subject to censorship. This case is one of
      many concerning school censorship and allocation of student
      fees to support overtly political publications.

      Without solid support from the university, the need for
      outside support becomes critical. While the conservative
      Collegiate Network alone claims to spend $1 million a year
      on programs related to campus publications, progressive
      publications can find themselves forced to cut their budgets
      or unable to start up. When asked to identify the biggest
      challenge for North Carolina's Boiling Point, editor Rachael
      Young did not hesitate: "Funding...we haven't really come up
      with a lot; there's not a lot of money out there for [us]."
      And there are few funding options. Fundraising events and
      door-to-door soliciting provide only minor sumsof money, and
      subscriptions do not cover overhead for even the most
      well-established newspapers. Many American publications
      depend on advertising to cover production costs, but some
      alternative papers adhere to strict anticorporate views.
      Harish Bhandari of the X at the University of California,
      Berkeley, argues, "We're a public institution, and I don't
      see the place for ads on the campus." Even if an alternative
      paper welcomes ads, many students are unable to solicit
      effectively in their spare time.

      In cases where funding is available, progressive papers are
      often victims of neglect. While the energy from progressive
      students is there, it is not well channeled by a strong
      institutionalized network. Starting any type of campus
      publication requires learning the technicalities of layout,
      printing and finance, and the nuts and bolts of putting
      together a paper. Everything from deciding editorial policy
      to publication format and layout takes time to develop.
      Student journalists are often reinventing the wheel. While
      many papers are founded by an energetic group, the paper's
      zeal often dies once they graduate.

      Conservative campus papers are also affected by these
      problems, but they have a strong network to maintain
      continuity and help give their papers some independence from
      the college. The Collegiate Network provides direct grants
      to publications and a toll-free advice hotline. The
      Leadership Institute offers advice to conservative papers on
      how to become nonprofit groups independent from the college,
      and it runs seminars on finding advertisers and raising
      funds from sympathetic alumni. Conservative students
      nationwide are also linked through conferences run by alumni
      to train a new generation of campus journalists, who often
      go on to positions of power, where they affect the larger
      public discourse.

      Progressives have tried to establish their own network of
      campus papers, but with much less success. In 1987 the
      Center for National Policy, a progressive, Washington-based
      think tank, was approached by a group of student journalists
      with a request for help. The result was a conference of
      student journalists that year, but subsequent fundraising
      was disappointing. The CNP managed to raise only $10,000 to
      fund twenty papers in 1988. In 1994 the Center for Campus
      Organizing started an alternative publication network and in
      a matter of weeks had fifty-five publications on its list.
      Later, when the CCO died, its Campus Alternative Journalism
      Project became part of the Independent Press Association,
      where it remains under the leadership of Brian
      Edwards-Tiekert, the first dedicated CAJP staff member.
      Today, the CAJP is a nationwide network that offers a
      website template, an online discussion forum, annual awards
      and an article exchange service; and answers questions and
      troubleshoots for its 102 active member publications.

      A panel chair at a recent conservative foundation conference
      emphasized that you get "huge leverage for your dollars" in
      funding the war of ideas at all levels, but while
      conservative foundations have purchased storefront property
      in the marketplace of ideas, most foundations regarded as
      progressive or liberal simply are not interested in aiding
      student newspapers. Despite what is often perceived as a
      shortage of funds on the left, these foundations do have
      comparable resources but devote little of it to media and
      broad-based ideological movements. Some of these foundations
      are actually rather moderate and try not to be explicitly
      political. Others are engaged in activist work on specific
      issues. Interviews with a number of foundation officials
      revealed that many more progressive foundations regard their
      main responsibility as serving constituencies directly
      affected by bad policy. Soya Harris, grants manager for A
      Territory Resource (ATR), a public foundation that supports
      activist, community-based organizations working for social,
      economic and environmental justice in the Northwest,
      explained, "Campus organizing can be very insular and not
      connected to communities around the campus.... We work with
      people who need to build power for themselves first."

      Funding grassroots organizing is important, but the
      foundation community cannot afford to ignore the war of
      ideas, or we will lose it [see Michael H. Shuman, "Why Do
      Progressive Foundations Give Too Little to Too Many?"
      January 12/19, 1998].

      If the progressive movement hopes to counter the shift to
      the right in op-ed columns, talk-radio, cable TV and the
      Internet, it must work to shape the broader public
      discourse, a discourse that begins on college campuses.
      According to Edwards-Tiekert, student publications may start
      up in reaction to a single cause, but their existence helps
      to "develop future thinkers." The process of publishing a
      paper develops these students' ideas, making them more
      effective in their involvement in public affairs.

      In the last presidential election, 46 percent of 18- to
      29-year-old voters voted Republican. The right is pumping
      millions of dollars into swaying young people to its side,
      and its influence is growing. But the student movement has a
      progressive tradition. Ignoring that tradition and the
      papers it produces will encourage the march to the right,
      while supporting them can lead to a new generation dedicated
      to progressive politics.

      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      All my fiction through 2001 and more. Intro by S.T. Joshi.

      Lord We├┐rdgliffe and Necronomicon Page:
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      Said Smygo, the iconoclast of Zothique: "Bear a hammer with
      thee always, and break down any terminus on which is
      written: 'So far shalt thou pass, but no further go.'"
      --Clark Ashton Smith
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