A Farewell Letter from the Editor-in-Chief
Issue   |   Tue, 12/05/2017 - 22:49

The path to becoming and staying editor-in-chief of The Student has been far from easy. As a managing editor for the news section starting my sophomore year, I had gotten a taste of the complexity of our campus. This was in the midst of great change, with Amherst Uprising and the ousting of controversial and unofficial mascot Lord Jeff. Then there was the 2016 presidential election, which launched the school into another era of campus activism. Being editor-in-chief, I assumed, would continue to be challenging and complicated.

Still, I remained somewhat of an idealist — in the way that many student journalists are idealists. It was easy to pick on mainstream papers’ flaws and think that we could avoid the same problems. I wanted to help lead this paper in pursuing truth and journalistically ethical reporting.

But during my time on this paper, that idealism came face to face with the reality that “truth” and “ethical reporting” are in fact not as simple as they seem.

When I wrote on Amherst Uprising as it happened, several students initially willing to speak on the record later changed their minds. They also urged me to cover the unfolding events from their perspective instead. As someone who had only ever written for the news section and valued being fair and not taking sides, I couldn’t.

At the time, I didn’t understand their demands of me and accusations that I didn’t care about them and their cause. But looking back, I’ve come to recognize that these students were simply speaking from their own perspectives. From the truth of their experiences of marginalization and hurt that led them to protest, they sought coverage that they believed would stand up to oppressive forces. That was the exposure they wanted; it was just not my immediate assignment.

Moving from student activists to members of the college administration, there is a significant shift in what’s considered journalistically responsible. This became apparent in conversations with various administrators after recent articles on campus sexual misconduct, student dissatisfaction with financial aid and the controversial (and quickly withdrawn) decision to enact campus-wide gender-designated housing. Administrators’ responses ranged from denying or criticizing our coverage to expressing their dissatisfaction that we published those articles in the first place. This could be because their jobs require maintaining the college’s image, a goal which naturally may conflict with the job of student journalists, who aim to expose the truth, even if it’s inconvenient or unflattering.

Alumni, too, often hold very different views from current students. I’ve seen it in the letters that arrive in our office and in my email inbox. I’ve received criticism for topics we have (or have not) covered and the ways in which we covered them. There’s dissonance between current students and alumni from years and decades ago. Alumni remember Amherst as it existed in their four years here, which shapes their understanding of fairness and responsibility. However, much has changed at the college since then. Certainly, the campus itself — with its women, its people of color and its students from different socioeconomic classes — has changed.

Our experiences play an undeniably important role in shaping how we think about truth and journalistic ethics. Truth — in facts, stats and events — has not changed, but I have learned that what constitutes accurate representation can vary vastly between different people. The questions raised in gray areas where people disagree on what’s fair and accurate often have no easy answers. My attempts at resolving these conflicts have sometimes strengthened my initial convictions. Other times, I have had to learn how to recover from mistakes and carry these lessons into the future.

These past three years of editing, writing and managing have taught me about being firm and resolute as well as being humble and empathetic. In all honesty, being part of The Student — contending with upset readers, angry administration, exhaustion in leadership and loss of belief that I was doing anything meaningful — has taken a lot of me. But I have also experienced unique growth.

I’ve been lucky enough to see other members of our staff grow in experience and rise up to any challenge they’ve faced. Most of my time as editor-in-chief has been shared with my co-editor, Drew Kiley. We worked well together to navigate difficult decisions, including the one to derive most of our funds from the AAS for the near future, which we detailed in an editorial in our fourth issue this year. We also read and edited so many exciting and interesting stories, many of which Drew outlined in his own farewell piece at the end of October.

I’ve been working with new editor-in-chief Nate Quigley, who has taken over Drew’s role; next semester, former news editor Isabel Tessier will join him. I have seen their excitement and passion and have no doubt that they will bring valuable skills and perspectives to their leadership. I’m grateful that I can leave the paper in their hardworking hands.

The entire newspaper staff, past and present, has made my time here memorable and valuable. I particularly looked up to former editors-in-chief Sophie Murguia and Lauren Tuiskula, under whom I wrote and edited and who showed me the true value of student journalism. They’re a major reason why I accepted my current position. When I began as a first-year staff writer, Dan Ahn and Elaine Jeon were my managing news editors who helped me become a better writer and reporter. Head design editors Justin Barry and Gabby Bishop spent countless hours making our paper look fantastic. Publishers Emily Ratte and Tia Robinson were instrumental in facilitating our financial transition. I also thank our readers for continuing to read our weekly issues and supporting us with your encouragement.

As I step down and The Student continues to move forward, I encourage you to keep reading and supporting student journalism. In the coming months and years, I hope that you can continue to see in our words a continued dedication to reveal and inform, as well as an effort to facilitate communication, understanding and empathy beyond boundaries.