Strange things are afoot at Grambling State University, the historically black Louisiana school where the football players recently revolted against an interim coach and refused to play a game because of deplorable training and facility conditions.
Now Jackson State University, the team Grambling was scheduled to play, has announced plans to take legal action against the Louisiana college to recoup financial losses from the missed homecoming game, which attracts tens of thousands of fans.
Grambling players have been complaining of mold and mildew in the athletic complex, 14- and 17-hour bus rides to games, a lack of funds to help pay for Gatorade and Muscle Milk during scorching hot practices and the recent firing of a head coach. Several on the team went so far as to demand the resignation of the school's president, Frank Pogue.
The players have since agreed to resume the season, but things took a dramatic turn when the school reportedly suspended student news reporters merely for tweeting images of the decrepit athletic complex. "Grambling St fired and suspended student journalists for tweeting photos of their mold at the athletic complex," NBC Sports reporter Newy Scruggs announced on Twitter. "This admin has lost it." Nonetheless, the student reporters' work — however modest — brought credibility to the football players' protest: Clearly, they weren't exaggerating the sordid conditions of their athletic center.
As the problems at Grambling were being made public and attracting national attention, Jeremy Diamond, an undergraduate student reporter at George Washington University's GW Hatchet, published a story that would reveal a minor scandal at his school.
George Washington, as Diamond reported, acknowledged just last month that it routinely considers an applicant's ability to pay in the late stages of the admissions process. Before admissions notices are sent out, the school assesses how many students — of those it might accept — it can afford to give tuition assistance. This means some otherwise qualified, needy applicants are put on the waiting list. George Washington, however, has claimed for years to be need-blind — meaning "blind" to financial need with regard to admissions decisions.
The school's policy change was made public when Diamond reported on an interview with a newly hired associate provost. Until then, university information sessions and the George Washington website boasted that admission decisions were made without regard to requests for financial aid. (The website has since been updated.)
Diamond hasn't, to my knowledge, been retaliated against, but much like the Grambling journalists, his scoop reveals the value that campus publications can bring when they aren't busy trading in dreadful opinion pieces and excruciatingly mundane event coverage. College reporters can produce sharp, surprisingly lucid reporting on scandals that would otherwise go unreported, written by students who are close to the matters at hand but are not silenced by the job insecurity or public relations concerns that dog any university's faculty or staff.
As The Atlantic's Jonathan Peters and Frank Lomonte argued in a March piece, college journalists need free speech more than ever to fill in "gaps created by the traditional media's decline" — particularly after four federal courts of appeals ruled that educators may regulate school-sponsored speech.
Indeed, in a small sense, campus media is the most utopian journalism model that's left, giving students the freedom to report on what they deem important while remaining detached from the ubiquitous industry stressors of dwindling revenue, advertising models or sponsored content. Assuming student journalists adhere to standards of fairness, balance and accuracy, to let their work be rocked by censorship or chilling actions by school administrators is a disservice to them and their audience.
Concern, to be sure, is in order for the Grambling football team. But so is some solidarity for the student journalists who were temporarily suspended for reporting on the team's complaints. On any campus, a student journalist's silencing is the community's loss.
Zach Schonfeld, 23, is a journalist in New York and graduated from Wesleyan University last spring.
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