Following this letter is a Letter-to-the-Editor by Sara Russo, which appeared in The Hill newspaper. - The Editors.
Previously, I wrote an article on FrontPagemagazine.com detailing how the President of Roger Williams University had frozen publication funds to the school’s only conservative paper and had accused its editors of fostering hatred. Our alleged offense was to express concern about lopsided liberal official university programming presented in the name of diversity. After media coverage and pressure from Students for Academic Freedom and the Young America’s Foundation, President Nirschel removed the freeze from the paper’s budget. This hasn’t stopped the administration from distorting facts in an effort to thwart campus conservatives. University officials at RWU, with the help of credulous student senators, have since been busy mischaracterizing us when talking to the media in order to strengthen their crusade against The Hawk’s Right Eye (HRE) and to purge conservative thought from campus.
As The Hill reported, RWU Provost Ed Kavanagh has now been criticizing the illustrations we publish. He decries a picture that featured “swastikas over faces of prominent African Americans” and a photo that “depicted a lewd act of a child molestation.”
Kavanagh correctly identifies such material as controversial, but its polemic force is the very reason we publish it. The bearer of a swastika in our photo is the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, infamous for publicly calling Judaism a “gutter religion” and saying that Hitler was a “great man”—hence the swastikas. Kavanagh refers to this unapologetic anti-Semite as “a prominent African-American” without addressing the substantive charge our illustration made regarding Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism. The photo was intended to illustrate with a graphic, stark image just how ugly Farrakhan’s prejudice is, but Kavanagh elided that message completely, a conspicuous omission that offended and shocked Jewish students and other members of the university community. In media interviews, the Provost neglected to specify which “prominent African-American” we targeted and why; at least, that key piece of information never made it into print. In any case, reporter Jonathan E. Kaplan omitted any reference to Farrakhan by name, if any had in fact been made.
With the alleged depiction of “a lewd act of child molestation,” Kavanagh refers to a reprint of parts of a Worldnetdaily (WND) story we ran on the imbalance in media coverage of crimes committed against homosexuals on the one hand, and sex crimes committed by homosexuals on the other. We noted that, around the same time frame as the brutal murder of homosexual Matthew Shepard, a 13-year-old Arkansas boy was sodomized to death by two homosexuals. A New York Times Nexis search of the period reveals 120 hits for Matthew Shepard and zero hits for Jesse Dirkhising, the 13-year-old in question. It seemed to HRE’s editors that homophobic stories are always well-covered, but in cases where homosexuals are the culprits, the news is swept under a rug. Our intent with the photo was to make a graphic but salient point: Why wasn’t there an international outcry over Jesse Dirkhising, as there was for Matthew Shepard? Is the murder of Dirkhising any the less horrifying?
None of the material we have published has been pornographic in any way. Judge for yourself by viewing it here: www.rwucr.com/hre/. Student senator Wynter Lavier told the Providence Journal that it was, though, which may be part of the reason that such an allegation caught wind. According the Journal, “Lavier called some of the material in the newsletter pornographic because … it contains sexually explicit material that has no social, political or moral value.” That last phrase is telling, since we expressly intended to prompt readers to consider the deconstruction of America’s moral and social fabric underlying our political culture. Was Lavier so distracted by a frank discussion of sex that she missed the overall point about society and ethics? If she did, the editors find this odd, since the material could in no way be interpreted as conveying a message of sexual provocation. HRE is not Playboy, Penthouse or even MAXIM. This is obvious to even the most cursory of readers.
News is sometimes vivid, and the truth is often ugly. University administrators must come to grips with harsh reality. They cannot resort to censoring us simply because they find our work distasteful. Editors who whitewash the truth’s ugliness are abdicating their duties as journalists and citizens. On my desk is the October edition of Sports Illustrated, which proves the point well. It quotes the detective assigned to the Kobe Bryant case in a graphic recounting of the alleged rape as told to him by the plaintiff. According to the detective’s retelling, Kobe “forced her to turn around, bent her over a chair, pulled her panties down and entered from the rear.” Kobe allegedly moaned “I like Vail, Colorado” as he committed the act, the detective claimed. Is that report salacious? Is it gratuitous? Depending on your point of view, it might be. But it drives the point of Kobe’s alleged misdeeds home. SI is widely available and read by members of all age groups, but no one is talking about censoring SI over the story, and rightly so.
Kavanagh told CNSnews that RWU “welcomes conservative viewpoints.” As an example, Kavanagh told the Providence Journal reporter that Ann Coulter and David Horowitz were invited to campus. They were, but only when the College Republicans invited them, with the support of the Young America’s Foundation. No official arm of the university was involved. In my three years at RWU, the school has not sponsored one conservative speaker. Any dose of conservatism the campus receives is through students, not administrators.
Kavanagh continues to frame the issue around hate speech. “But [with the conservative paper], it’s an issue of, can you be as bad as you want to be, can you be as hateful as you want to be with a publication that’s produced with university funds”, Kavanagh told CNSnews. Note that neither Kavanagh nor Nirschel declared the recent campus lectures by Judy Shepard or James Dale hateful, even though both targeted traditional values in a manner that conservatives found hateful. Clearly, the administration wants to draw attention away from its practice of foisting liberalism onto students. To accomplish this verbal sleight of hand, it is trying to shift the discussion to one about hate speech. Even the ACLU has defended the conservatives’ right to publish The Hawk’s Right Eye. At a recent student senate hearing, Daryl J. Finizio, an openly gay Republican and chapter president of the ACLU at RWU Law School, said the student senate could face serious legal charges if they chose to de-fund the HRE. Finizio said that because the University receives federal grants and has a 501(c3) status, it could not nullify funding based on ideological affiliation.
I agree that statements of hostility, threats, and overt hatred targeted toward specific individuals should not be condoned. I’ve challenged administrators, senators and students to show me where the publication is hateful or where any claims made in it are unsubstantiated. None have accepted the challenge. Instead, senators and administrators have chosen the pusillanimous route, labeling religious or other traditional views with which they may disagree “intolerant” and “hateful”.
Meanwhile, the hate communicated toward me and other College Republicans for vocalizing our religious beliefs has not subsided. I have been called “Satan” and “Spanish Hitler” by peers in classes and in dorms. Furthermore, someone decided to write “College Republicans are lil’ Nazis. F*** you. What happened to tolerance?” on my door tag, next to my door. “One would think Jason Mattera is the anti-Christ from all the names he is called on campus”, said architecture student Mike Martelli.
Such intolerance has been, at least implicitly, encouraged by the President of RWU. After the HRE was distributed, President Nirschel sent out an all-student email labeling the paper hateful. “The university will not condone publications that create a hostile environment for our students and community,” Nirschel wrote. The university is “too busy for hate,” he added. Now students who have never read our periodical are predisposed to believe that HRE is a fount of prejudice. From there, it’s not a far leap to conclude that the traditional values we uphold are odious and should not be tolerated, and that conservatism everywhere equals intolerance and sparks hatred. How can university administrators be “too busy for hate” when they appear to foster that state of mind in others through public verbal mud-slinging? Nirchel chose not to remind his readers that appropriate responses to our articles must not entail threats, violence, vandalism, or hate speech.
According to Monique Stuart, executive director of the College Republicans, the president’s email “has created a hostile environment for every member of the club or anyone who associates with members.” Stuart goes on to say, “my roommates have been harassed and have to fear for their safety because [the president’s email] gave free reign to everyone on campus to lash out against the College Republicans.”
Now, under the leadership of Kavanagh—who calls himself a conservative—the university has formed an ad hoc committee to review student publications if a club advisor objects to any of the material. Dean of Student Affairs Richard Stegman sent out a memo to all club presidents and club advisors outlining this new procedure for publication. Mind you, this procedure affects only the conservative paper because it is currently the only partisan paper on campus. In the memo, Stegman affirms “free expression”, but also says that university has a strong commitment to “probity, civility, and mutual respect”, which is why prior review must be implemented, says Stegman.
According to the Providence Journal, Kavanagh said that the University should allow unpopular points of view, but “It should be done with decorum and ethical standards expected of a university.” Such a protocol is easily abused. Conservatives laud civility and decorum but will not compromise freedom of expression. “We want to encourage freedom of expression,” Kavanagh told The Hill. Why then would he want to form a committee to filter expression? You cannot have it both ways, “free as long as we approve of it.” Clearly some publications, and clubs, are more equal than others, as Orwell’s Animal Farm pigs might have proclaimed. In glorifying his display of tolerance, this “self-described conservative” has formed a censorship committee that is nothing more than a tyrannical PC wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Jason Mattera, an economics fellow at the National Journalism Center, was named Best College Republican State Chairman in 2003 and is a junior at Roger Williams University. Jedediah Jones, a sophomore at Roger Williams University majoring in political science and a frequent writer for The Hawk’s Right Eye, contributed to this article.
Sara Russo's Letter-to-the-Editor in The Hill
In your Oct. 22 article about Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), “Kingston backs academic diversity measure,” your reporter mischaracterizes several facts regarding the censorship of Roger Williams University student Jason Mattera and his conservative campus newspaper The Hawk’s Right Eye.
The article quotes Roger Williams Provost Ed Kavanagh to the effect that the newspaper ran “a mock version of the school’s newspaper with swastikas over faces of prominent African-Americans and another issue depicted a lewd act of child molestation.”
In fact, the issue in question depicted a swastika over the face of only one individual, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who is known for his extreme anti-Semitism. The “lewd act of child mutilation” was a quoted description from mainstream news site World Net Daily of the sexual assault and murder of 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising by two homosexual men, which the editors brought up to demonstrate the disparity between the national headlines made by Mathew Shepherd’s graphic murder and the media silence regarding Dirkhising’s ordeal.
Furthermore, despite quoting Kavanagh as stating that “we want to encourage freedom of expression,” the article makes no mention of the $2,700 in funding allocated to The Hawk’s Right Eye to publish nine issues that were “frozen” by the administration until “community standards” could be addressed. It is no wonder that the illustrious “Jedediah Jones” who co-wrote Mattera’s piece for Frontpage Magazine continues to write under a nom de plume.