Letter from the Editorial Board: Black lives matter

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The Hilltop Monitor editorial board condemns the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, police brutality, racism and White supremacy – and we resoundingly affirm that Black lives matter.

While we’ve attempted to demonstrate our commitment to highlighting student voices and keeping our community informed by publishing features of student advocacy and news reports on the institutional response to these events, these do not constitute an explicit condemnation of the egregious human rights violation that is police brutality, which we must do in order to affirm our commitment to securing freedom and equality for all members of our community.

Speaking as editor-in-chief of The Hilltop Monitor, I conflated news coverage of the recent events alone as a statement of the Monitor’s commitment to these principles. That is simply not enough, and for that I apologize. I further apologize for not sooner directly expressing our condemnation of the horrific murder of George Floyd, and Black people killed by police before him, and our commitment to anti-racism. 

This letter is long overdue, not just because it is being published two full weeks after George Floyd’s murder, but also because the Monitor has never in its history publicly and explicitly expressed a commitment to uplifting the voices of the marginalized nor recognizing the unequivocal truth that Black lives matter.

We cannot be trusted to effectively keep our College accountable nor adequately represent our community if we are unable to call instances of racism and breaches of human rights exactly what they are. 

In doing so, however, we must first confront the failures on the part of our own organization to work to those ends.

News organizations are all too often scared into a position of complacent centrism by the age-old journalistic code of ethics that champions objectivity and neutrality as the cornerstones of good reporting. However, in a case such as this, the basic premise of these ethics is self-defeating. How is it that the fundamental truth that Black lives matter is considered subjective or biased? Acknowledging that Black lives matter is not a political statement. It is a fact. 

And, how convenient is it that these codes of ethics were created by White men hundreds of years ago who were privileged enough to be able to remain neutral and unaffected? We must begin to question the application of these standards and recognize how they can perpetuate oppressive structures under the guise of unbiased objectivity. 

Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in his seminal work in political science “Democracy in America” about the indispensability of press associations to democracy, said about newspapers:

“To suppose that they only serve to protect freedom would be to diminish their importance: they maintain civilization.”

In a previous Letter from the Editor I wrote with my then co-chief editor about press freedom and the importance of distinguishing opinion from facts, I remarked that “the Monitor is not an advocacy organization.” This was, and is, false.

Newspapers, at their core, are advocates of democracy, advocates of freedom and, as de Tocqueville said, advocates of civilization.

As such, we must recognize the fact that maintaining civilization requires the condemnation of acts and practices that run contrary to universal norms of human rights and call out instances of failures to dispel racism within our community.

It is our duty not only to report on instances of racism as they happen but to hold guilty parties accountable. This requires consistent, persistent coverage that doesn’t cease once tensions cool down.

Furthermore, in seeking to account for our failures and report news that takes into account the views of all individuals within our communities, we must work to recruit more BIPOC staff members. 

As a newspaper with a primarily White staff, we inherently skew our reporting to a specific worldview, and that can only be compensated for by the inclusion of more BIPOC contributors.

Below we outline a few concrete measures by which the Monitor will demonstrate its commitment to oppose racism and promote inclusivity on Jewell’s campus:

  • Undertake journalistic investigations into instances of racism and discrimination within the Jewell community, publishing a minimum of two to three full investigative pieces per semester
  • Provide more accessible avenues by which all members of our community can bring to our attention leads, tips and story ideas relating to diversity and inclusivity in order to expand our coverage, including but not limited to a Google form accessible on all of our social media
  • Place an increased focus on reporting on racial disparities as they present themselves within Liberty, the Kansas City metro and the U.S., by publishing at minimum five of these news pieces per semester and designating a beat specifically concerning these issues, so that staff members are always ready to cover these issues the moment they present themselves
  • Incorporate themes of advocacy, inclusion and dignity into articles on all pages, not just Features and News, including but not limited to publishing more artist and sports features on BIPOC and more reviews of art/work/content created by BIPOC
  • Recruit more BIPOC staff members by reaching out to organizations like BSA, Mi Gente, INSA – not only asking them to join our staff but also asking them if there are ways we can make our reporting more inclusive
  • Use our platform to highlight and amplify BIPOC voices, including, but not limited to, regularly commissioning opinion pieces and letters to the editor from BIPOC, seeking out interviews from more BIPOC and featuring more BIPOC-led initiatives in our news reporting
  • Establish direct lines of communication with the leadership of campus multicultural organizations in order to increase coverage on them, especially those representing BIPOC, including publishing dedicated features explaining the missions of each of these organizations as well as publishing content throughout the year reporting these organizations’ initiatives 
  • Carefully question and probe the validity of data and statistics from law enforcement agencies for misrepresentative or racially biased information
  • Explicitly ask cabinets and senators running for Student Senate both at the annual Senate debates and within interviews how they intend to oppose racism and promote diversity and inclusivity on campus, particularly with regards to recruitment and retention, enrollment, housing and representation on campus

If you are interested in getting involved in any of these initiatives, have any comments or questions about these or have further recommendations for items we should add to this list, please email editor-in-chief Christina Kirk at monitor@william.jewell.edu.

Our primary role on this campus is and has always been amplifying voices within our community and holding the College accountable. This requires that we promote diversity and inclusivity within both our newsroom and our reporting.  It also requires watchfulness, persistence and the ability to call out racist and discriminatory behaviors and practices for what they are.

Our silence was prohibitive of these goals, and we now realize that the press cannot truly be a beacon of freedom and equality if it fails to do its part in mitigating and dismantling oppressive structures. We will do better because we must do better.

Letters to the editor can be sent to monitor@william.jewell.edu.

Our staff is open to any student who would like to join. If interested, send an email to monitor@william.jewell.edu.

Christina Kirk, Editor-in-Chief

Savannah Hawley, Managing Editor and Chief Copy Editor

Catherine Dema, Features Editor and Investigations Editor

Jenna Hultgren, News Editor and Opinions Editor

Trent Brink, Sports Editor 

Angelica Gutierrez, Lifestyle Editor

Kari Tott, Coordinator of Campus Engagement

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