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Bursting the Bubble
By: Tina Macias, Age 16 Posted: 03.05.03
A student newspaper editor from suburban Houston shares her experience with and thoughts on censorship.
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Living in an affluent Houston suburb is sometimes like living in a bubble - everything is within a 15-minute drive and everyone knows each other's business. So in January when residents heard of a gay-straight alliance (GSA) proposed in their conservative community they went ballistic. They were uninformed and distraught from hearing homosexuals might be their neighbors. Anti-GSA petitions were passed around and dozens of angry calls flooded the superintendent's office.
Nearly four months earlier I sat in my high school's principal's office trying to convince him to let me run an article about the gay-straight alliance in our school newspaper. The organization is a student run club to help promote awareness and tolerance of homosexuality. People who hadn't heard of the organization thought it was only about sex. The principal wanted to prevent "division in the classroom" by not allowing the story to run at that time. It was too early for the story he claimed and he wanted to wait for a decision from the district central office about whether the club would be allowed to meet on campus.
Prior review, administrative power to censor, is heavily enforced at my high school. While on staff I have seen countless stories censored. Curfews, street racing, dress code, bathroom use and a story with quotes "demeaning" student trainers are among the credible stories censored. It outrages the staff every time stories are pulled by the administration. Issue after issue we watch other schools run fascinating controversial articles while we dish out stories about how great our academic team is.
Mandatory by our district, every article the staff writes must be read and approved by an administrator. If a story runs without being checked by our liaison, the reporter must undergo detention. Along with our articles, school organization and events T-shirts must be approved by an administrator as well as flyers and posters that are posted on school walls. What are the administrators protecting their students from? That question still baffles the newspaper staff. Our prior review policy will always sicken me. Why can't they allow a flow of information and trust the journalism students and sponsors to make decisions on what's newsworthy?
Making the story available to students
From November to January, I fought for my GSA story to appear in the newspaper, confronting the principal two more times. People continued to tell me it was well written, factual and unbiased (including the principle), but three issues of our monthly periodical went by and I was still forbidden to run it. The option of sending the story to another publication was raised but I wanted it to run in our newspaper where it would be readily available to the students.
The GSA filed a suit against the district and I was still not allowed to run my article even though news channels were picking up and distorting the story. It was not until a quote from me and a Student Press Law Center (SPLC) lawyer about the censorship of the story ran in the Houston Chronicle was I allowed to run the article, but it was too late in the production of the issue to consider running it on front page.
The role of student newspapers
Students received the story well, but it didn't matter. They already knew. Newspapers-even amateur school newspapers-are meant to inform while stories are time worthy, not after the fact. Students read about the GSA issue in the Houston Chronicle or saw it on TV. Why did they have to watch a middle-aged news anchor mispronounce students' names instead of hearing it through the school's information source?
SPLC protects first amendment rights that should still be prevalent in all school publications. Even though journalism students on my campus are not willing to take the time to fight prior review embedded in our newspaper for over 60 years, others can battle their constitutional rights and avoid a repeat of my story.
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