The Parthenon

Campus controversy and biased news

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Controversy creeps up on campus in the most interesting ways sometimes. All it took was a poster about privilege in the freshman dorm hung by the resident adviser of that floor to get an entire article on the Campus Reform website denouncing the poster and its creator.

Because this is a feminist-themed column and I have written about privilege before, I am going to focus primarily on the faulty argument that the Campus Reform piece makes.

The author of the piece Kaitlyn Schallhorn identifies herself as an investigative reporter for the site on her Facebook page.

I, however, identified several journalistic issues with the piece including the use of anonymous sources and the use of screenshots of the RA’s social media posts that are private. While using an anonymous source isn’t necessarily bad journalism, in this case the source did not face any immediate danger from being identified, and he or she only provided an opinion, no sensitive information. Using an anonymous source in this case delegitimizes the source and what they have to say.

Another issue I had with the article was the use of highly accusatory language toward the RA who hung the poster. The intro to the story describes the poster as “handmade” in a way that seems to delegitimize it, as well as placing the word privilege in quotation marks as if even the term’s legitimacy were being brought into question. The intro also states, “The RA was supportive of similar bulletin boards at App State University on social media.” What the RA does or does not do on her own social media account is not relevant. Obviously she is an advocate for the acknowledgement of privilege, hence the bulletin board.

Much like what I am writing here, Schallhorn’s piece is clearly an opinion piece, not a work of investigative journalism (it’s found under the “News” tab on the website). I also question the ethics involved in acquiring the screenshots of the RA’s personal social media accounts. One was described as being submitted by “a student who wished to remain anonymous” and the other was simply described as being “provided” to the site.

Also, the article states “According to a screenshot….Swiger [the RA] bragged about her ‘last bulletin board’ on her Facebook page.”

While it is a fact that Jessie Swiger wrote a Facebook status about the bulletin board, saying she bragged about it is an assumption made by Schallhorn.

Now to get back on my feminist high horse, the students who were interviewed for the piece, despite Swiger’s informative bulletin board, failed to understand the concept of privilege.

An anonymous student from the floor was quoted in the article saying, “This creates a situation that ostracizes individuals. [The RA] shouldn’t be trying to divide us.” Understanding your privilege has everything to do with bringing people together and nothing to do with pushing them apart.

Another student who was named said, “You can’t control your life and what you obtain. The true concept of ‘privilege’ is simply a bad attitude because somebody has something you don’t.” Ironically, that is exactly the opposite of privilege, which is about acknowledging that you have things others don’t in order to tap into your empathy.

While the article does say the site attempted to contact Swiger, who is not allowed to comment, it failed to interview anyone else who agrees with her position.

I also found the content of the article directly contradictory to the site’s mission statement: “Campus Reform holds itself to rigorous journalism standards and strives to present each story with accuracy, objectivity and public accountability.”

As a journalist I object to this clear opinion piece being presented as news on a site that claims to live up to journalist standards. As a feminist, I feel a need point out the obvious bias against realizing one’s privilege in a world where many are discriminated against while others receive special treatment that has been systematically enforced to the point it is no longer obvious.

Jocelyn Gibson can be contacted at [email protected]

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