More than 1,000 students sign petition to oust Union Weekly editor in chief
April 17, 2011
More than 1,000 students signed a petition to remove Union Weekly Editor-in-Chief Kevin O’ Brien from office.
The petition was turned in on Friday.
Two articles published by the Associated Students Inc.-funded publication have caused a recent backlash of public outrage. Speakers assembled on Friday to appeal their concerns to ASI’s Student Media Board, which oversees all outlets of student-run media within the University Student Union, such as the Union and KBeach radio station.
On March 14, the Union published a review by campus editor Noah Kelly of Cal State Long Beach’s annual Native American Pow Wow event. Some Native Americans and others condemned the article as offensive and racially insensitive. Last semester, the Union published an article called “How to Get Laid: A Girls’ Guide for Guys.” The article drew much criticism for allegedly condoning non-consensual sex.
The American Indian Student Council and others collected 1,182 signatures for the petition, more than the 500 necessary to lead to consideration by the board.
If a petition gathers 500 votes from current CSULB students, it can be submitted to the Student Media Board for consideration. However, the dean of students must verify the signatures before a vote can be taken. Results of the petition reflected that students outside of organizations directly affected by the Union’s controversial articles were also concerned.
“It hasn’t been solely just the American Indian Council,” said James Suazo, spokesperson for AISC. “It hasn’t solely been just JAGed (Justice and Gender Education).”
Alisha Herrick, one of the founding members of JAGed, expressed disdain for the “How to Get Laid” article. She said she found it demeaning to women
“We were told that this piece was intended as a joke to open up a dialogue about sex,” Herrick said. “On behalf of JAGed, we demand that Kevin O’ Brien be removed.”
Speakers said the reasons to remove O’ Brien include his alleged “failure to ensure inclusivity” for all students on campus, as well as his lack of consultation with an advisor prior to publishing articles. ASI funds the Union Weekly with more than $35,000 annually coming from student fees.
Though many argue that the Union is simply a catalyst for free speech and that punishing it for controversy would violate the First Amendment, Herrick argued that it wasn’t a matter of freedom, but rather irresponsibility.
“Freedom of speech is a responsibility that comes with consequences,” Herrick said. “Free speech does not give you license to demean, dehumanize and humiliate.”
O‘Brien, who was seated on the board during the meeting, believes that the Union has done well with the freedom it’s been given. He described the Union as a vehicle for students to share their opinions on a large scale. He said he remains open to discussion about its controversy.
“I regret that people were emotionally compromised by the article,” O’Brien said. “That was never our intention. I want you all to know that this is a dialogue. Knowledge, at the end, is what is being generated from this dialogue.” David Clifford, a CSULB alumnus and an attorney who represents tribal organizations, brought up the concept of degree value in the context of the Union.
“I got an education second to none,” Clifford said. “[This is] not what I came to know of this school, and not what I’ve come to expect from its students.” Clifford attended Loyola Law School, where he was one of only two students with a degree from a CSU among others who had graduated from schools like Harvard and Yale. He voiced concern about the depreciation of the once-renowned CSULB degree, and the impact the Union’s actions might have on it.
Another point against O’ Brien was the argument that he was simply not doing his job. Speakers said O’ Brien was clearly acting in violation to the Union’s own charter. Student Media Board Chair Jaime Varela pointed out that the Union should still have regard for basic journalistic conduct despite the accessible nature of its articles.
“No matter how artistic or creative a [news]paper is, it’s still a journalistic publication,” Varela said.
O’ Brien countered by saying that the transformation of the Union into a standardized publication would be a “great cultural loss” to the school.
“The Union allows students to think critically in ways they can’t anywhere else on campus,” he said.
The Student Media Board will review the petition to ensure the validity of its signatures before taking any further action.