Misrepresentations in National News of Events at CMC
November 18, 2015
by Christina Yoh
Recent events — the Halloween photo scandal, last week’s protest and demonstration, two students’ hunger strikes, the resignation of Dean of Students Mary Spellman — brought CMC in the public eye via national media coverage. The movement was reported on by major news outlets such as LA Times, The Guardian, NBC, Huffington Post and even Buzzfeed. Several others, including New York Times and Washington Post, mentioned CMC in articles about racial discrimination protests in colleges across the U.S. The Daily Beast even called CMC the “new Mizzou.”
Though the coverage was conducive to national discussion in recognizing the severity of the much larger institutional and cultural issues, and much of it correctly described what took place, some of the coverage failed to accurately represent the events taking place and the nature of the on-campus activism at CMC. Some of this national media failed to lay out the nuances of CMC’s problems and, at times, misrepresented last Wednesday's protest and the students involved.
Many articles incorrectly deduced that last Wednesday’s protest was the result of a single on-campus incident. New York Times, for instance, stated that a campus demonstration occurred in response to the photograph of racially insensitive Halloween costumes. Other articles placed sole blame on Dean Spellman’s email, referencing the “CMC mold,” for causing the protest. Buzzfeed said that the on-campus controversy began on October 25, when Dean Spellman's email to senior Lisette Espinosa '15 was sent out — though school-wide discussions didn't start until Sunday, November 8, when junior Casey Garcelon '17 shared the Halloween photo, and her concerns with it, on Facebook.
CMCers of Color, one of the primary organizations that led last Wednesday's protest, addressed these misperception in an official statement released last Friday: “Our movement did not begin with an insensitive photo posted on Halloween. Our movement began eight months ago, when we first presented the administration with our recommendations. The photo was a symptom of a larger problem.”
Student protesters were also vilified by several media sources, many of whom claimed that the student body at large pushed for Spellman's resignation. The Guardian said, “In response [to the email and Halloween costumes], students demanded a social justice center as well as the resignation of the dean.” The LA Times also claimed that the resignation of Spellman was a “win” for student leaders — though the demand for her to resign was not endorsed by CMCers of Color or the other groups who released a Call to Action letter to administrators a week ago.
CMCers of Color made it clear in their official statement that Spellman’s resignation was not their intent or a “win” for their specific goals: “Our movement never called for the resignation of Dean Spellman. While we support students who have been marginalized by the Dean of Students Office, we only endorse our written proposals. Our demonstration, on Wednesday, November 11, CMCers of Color, in collaboration with Brothers and Sisters Alliance (BSA), Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), Asian Pacific American Mentoring Program (APAM), and Generation University (GenU) was meant to counter the culture of discrimination at CMC. The departure of one administrator is not the solution to the institutional problems that persist at CMC.”
Some articles even made mistakes in details of the general sequence of events. Time reported that Spellman’s email was “in response to protests about racial bias on campus,” which is false. (It was a response to a specific student and her op-ed, describing her experience at CMC.) An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education mentions that protests “intensified on Monday” after a student, Taylor Lemmons '17, published a personal essay on the implicit and explicit racism she has faced at CMC; this statement is also incorrect, as protests did not start until Wednesday.
The media also focused in on individual students who participated in the protest. An article on Infowars reported on a short video — culled from The Forum’s full coverage of the protest — causing the clip to go viral on Reddit. The video shows an international Chinese student speaking at Wednesday's protest about an incident of racial discrimination she experienced with an African-American man. The crowd gave mixed responses; some found her story irrelevant to the protest's aim to hold CMC administrators accountable, another student tried to take the megaphone away from her (but was told not to), and others found her point to be thought-provoking and worth sharing; some in the crowd suggested that while the student had experienced prejudice, “racism is prejudice with power.”
Infowars, however, claimed the responses from the crowd were “damning because it illustrates how the ‘safe space’ students don’t really care about racism, they only care about race baiting and exploiting identity politics in order to obtain power via mob intimidation.” The article also victimized the Chinese student, stating that others “shouted her down.” The Daily Beast also reported that the student was “attacked during the protest.”
The female Chinese student shown in the video, a sophomore at CMC, feels that the media coverage surrounding her incident is a complete misunderstanding of what happened. On her personal Facebook profile, later shared by CMCers of Color, she explained that she is scared that her words were taken out of context and out of the “bigger picture.” The student clarified that people at the protest were comforting and supportive, and those who tried to stop her were only trying to stay focused on the issue at hand — confronting administrators over a lack of support for marginalized students.
The student expressed her full support for the movement and the proposals made by the organizing groups of marginalized students. “Let’s not let all the media coverage and sound bites cloud our rational judgment. We are all in this together, maybe not by the same approach, but what we all want is indeed to ‘look at people by who they are, what they do, nothing else,’” her Facebook post reads. CMCers of Color and their allies believe that the media coverage continues to “derail the movement,” according to co-chair Edgar Morelos ‘16. Last Friday, the organization created a Medium page to post responses and official statements in hopes of clarifying any and all misconceptions perceived by students and the outside media.