Georgetown College Incident Raises Censorship Concerns

by Jake Hawkins

A recent event on the campus of Georgetown College where members of one fraternity allegedly used racial slurs against a member of another has sparked major controversy, including allegations that Georgetown’s administration censored The Georgetonian, Georgetown’s student newspaper.

Located in neighboring Scott County, Georgetown College, like Transylvania University, is a small liberal arts institution. It was the first Baptist college founded west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Fueling the reports of censorship was the back page of The Georgetonian, which printed blank except for the following two sentences: “The original content of this article has been removed. This Editor has asked that nothing be printed in its place in protest.” The back page of The Georgetonian functions similarly to The Rambler’s “Etcetera” page, with the page editor having discretion over its contents.

According to junior Tori Bachman-Johnson, editor-in-chief of The Georgetonian, senior Perry Dixon, the back page editor, attempted to publish an article about the racially charged incident. She said that in the article, Dixon twice named the Kappa Alpha Order as the fraternity that allegedly used racial slurs.

Dixon did not respond to e-mails requesting comment.

Bachman-Johnson asked Dixon to remove the mention of the Kappa Alpha Order, but only after being told to do so by Georgetown’s president Dr. William H. Crouch Jr.
“(We) were trying to find out how we could go about reporting what we were allowed to say,” said Bachman-Johnson, “so we went straight to the president and the dean of students and asked them if there was anything we wouldn’t be allowed to print, and they just told us not to print names of the groups or individuals.”

“I told Perry that the administration told me we couldn’t use those names,” said Bachman-Johnson.

Rather than removing the names, Bachman-Johnson said that Perry chose not to run the story at all and to instead print the two sentences in protest.
According to Bachman-Johnson, the editor-in-chief of The Georgetonian is required to sign a contract that establishes Georgetown College as the owner and the president as the publisher, who then authorizes the provost to act on his behalf.

Bachman-Johnson further explained this in a letter that will be published in The Georgetonian but was made available to The Rambler beforehand.

“The college’s president and the provost are, as the publishers of The Georgetonian, protected by the First Amendment,” reads part of the letter. “However, freedom of the press is not extended to those who write for The Georgetonian. This policy, according to the law, is not censorship.”

Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate from the Student Press Law Center, who spoke with The Rambler about the situation, disagreed.
“It’s a very goofy defense to say that,” said Goldstein. “Yeah, that’s censorship.”

Goldstein defined censorship as “any action motivated by a desire to control content.”

“(They) have structured (their) entire program around the ability to control content,” said Goldstein.

Nevertheless, Jim Allison, Georgetown College’s associate vice president of college relations and marketing, disagreed.
“The administration did not and does not censor the student paper,” said Allison.

In Bachman-Johnson’s letter, which can be viewed in its entirety on The Rambler’s website, she explains the contract she signed more fully and outlined several “publication standards.” Among them: “A publication must reflect the purpose of the college, its Christian perspective and an awareness of its Baptist heritage,” and “the publication must have a view towards positive values for the college in what it reports.”

The letter concludes with a single statement: “Interpret as you will.”

The allegations of censorship were brought to The Rambler’s attention by an e-mail tip from a Transylvania University student. The Rambler, like The Georgetonian, is a student-run newspaper that is funded by the university. No editors of The Rambler, however, sign a contract with members of the administration.

At Transy, The Rambler and all other student media outlets are protected by a clause in the student handbook: “Student-directed publications that are published under the auspices of the university and/or are funded by the university shall be free of censorship.”

However, the university does reserve the right to censor or stop a publication which “endangers lives or property or is patently defamatory.”
Senior Erica Mundell, The Rambler’s editor-in-chief, assured that this isn’t a problem.

“It is our policy on The Rambler staff not to print anything that is defamatory,” said Mundell. “We do not endorse any type of hate speech, libel or anything of the sort.”
Additionally, the student handbook establishes certain protections for student editors.

“Student editors and managers,” reads the handbook, “may not be suspended or removed in response to pressure by individuals or groups disagreeing with editorial policies, positions or opinions.”


2 Responses to Georgetown College Incident Raises Censorship Concerns

  1. Trent says:

    The First Amendment is a guarantee against government censorship of speech. A private university has every right to select what may be published in the private newspaper it owns and operates.

    That said, it’s reprehensible that Georgetown chose to censor this article to try and cover up what’s been going on at its campus.

  2. Mike Moore says:

    The KA’s have promoted,modeled and advocated for the “Old South” at both Transy and Georgetown since 15 minutes after the ink was dry on the surrender document at the Appomatix Courthouse in the 1860’s. In the early 1960’s at Transy I witnessed a cofrontation outside Hazelrigg Hall in which some of the “Yankee Sympathizers” tried to take down the Confederate flag “Stars and Bars” that the KA’s had placed on an old flagpole that probably doesn’t exist anymore. A contingent of KA’s had commandeered from somewhere a telephone lineman’s truck with a bucket on it and headed full tilt toward the flagpole….several of the “Yankees” laid down in the trucks path and would have been crushed without the intervention of several Hazelrigg residents who slowed the bucket truck as well as get the bodies out from under the truck….there were no reports from the Rambler nor was any administrative consequences brought to bare…it is as if it didn’t happen…everybody who could do anything looked the other way and the “Old South” gang partied hard that night with the waft of bourbon whiskey and their “bucket truck” lifted high with the “stars and Bars” symbol they sought they sought to consecrate and dedicate that the legacy be carried on….The Georgetown incident and the attempt for Dr. Crouch and other administrators to hush it up says that the legacy still thrives.

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