Student press deserves to cover the good and the bad

At the Daily Trojan, we pride ourselves on our commitment to constant, unbiased coverage of the University of Southern California. Serving as an independent publication since 1912, it is a privilege and an honor to report on the many facets of the University without being pressured into censorship or dismissal by campus organizations or administration.

What worries us, then, is when these values are violated.

Earlier this week, one of our reporters was invited by the Interfraternity Council to cover the organization’s sexual assault prevention and Title IX training for their 400-plus new members. It was an event they were seemingly proud to showcase, and our reporter gladly accepted the invitation. Instances of sexual assault continue to plague our University, and we’d be glad to report on any outreach to prevent this.

By the end of the training, however, our warm welcome quickly soured. As our reporter prepared to leave the event, she was stopped by two IFC representatives and told she could not exit until she deleted her recording of the event. This was “private,” they said. Our reporter, startled and confused, complied after the members made it clear that she would not be let go unless her recording was erased. The director of Fraternity and Sorority Leadership Development then advised her to send her coverage of the event to an IFC board member for review before publication.

This, of course, we found extremely unsettling.

The Daily Trojan, as any other independent journalistic entity, does not comply with requests of article approval prior to publication, otherwise known as prior restraint. It is a tenet of the First Amendment and a pillar of American freedom of the press. To verify facts and quotes with the source is one thing, but to request final say of the piece is the antithesis of the journalist’s mission to report fair and accurately.

Nor does the IFC, or any other organization for that matter, have the right to force one of our reporters to delete their recording. This cry of “privacy” was never told beforehand, and the hosts were well aware the Daily Trojan was present.

We understand the topic of sexual assault is sensitive. But when an organization invites a reporter to the event with no disclosure that the event is private or off-the-record, there is no justification for demanding the deletion of their recording. If nothing else, the tape is mutually beneficial for both parties so there are no discrepancies between what the reporter writes and what actually happens at the event.

This behavior, then, begs the question of what is there to hide? Why such cautionary measures after the fact for coverage of an event that, if anything, makes the organization appear progressive and proactive?

We have some thoughts. While at the event, our reporter noticed behavior she found rather unbecoming from both the audience and administration considering the sensitive nature of the topics discussed.

Before the event began, she heard murmurs in line that this event was a “waste of time” and “bullsh-t.” And after the training commenced, behavior worsened.

Proddings for participation from administration were often met with apathy. When some did participate, the men in the audience seemed concerned about mixed signals from women during sexual encounters. One man commented that women can be  “teases” and “sometimes I’ll take off a girl’s bra but then she’ll cover her breasts.” What was even more unsettling was administrators in turn would often describe these situations as “tricky” and  “gray areas.”

Under California law concerning consent, there is no room for confusion. Green means go. Red means stop. Yes means yes.

In another instance, a fraternity member said it was a “mental assault” for him when a girl backed out of a hook up at the last minute. The audience laughed. Again, the word “tricky” was used in response.

We want to believe that this was just an instance of a “few bad apples.” These are, after all, new members perhaps eager to impress fellow brothers with feigned apathy. To say that the majority of fraternity members reflect this same behavior would be grossly unfair. But the actions of those in the audience and the behavior of Greek leaders toward our newspaper is anything but becoming of a student organization that prides itself on leadership and being “one of USC’s proudest traditions.”

If IFC is truly serious about reforming sexual assault culture at USC, we will serve as a willing platform to report these important efforts. But if its members choose to shut us out and merely pay lip service to an issue that will victimize 30 percent of women on the USC campus, then they must know that we will be present for that as well.

Daily Trojan Fall 2016 Editorial Board