By GINNY BIXBY
Throughout the fall semester, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding communication between writers for The Blue & Gray Press and Residence Life staff. Many writers have reported reluctance on the part of Residence Life staff, particularly RAs, regarding being interviewed for articles. While speculation was thrown around, it was unclear whether or not Residence Life had a true policy for these situations.
Furthermore, the reasoning for any restrictions on staff speaking to reporters was quite ambiguous. As a writer, I was bothered by what I perceived as a lack of transparency on the part of Residence Life. I got the impression that Residence Life was hiding something they were afraid the student press would uncover, and I was not alone. Hoping for some clarification and insight, I had the chance to speak with Ms. Chris Porter, Director of Residence Life and Commuter Student Services, and her explanations of the university’s media policies opened my mind up to potential issues I had not previously considered.
Porter, a former student-journalist, professed that she enjoys speaking to members of The Blue & Gray Press. She made it clear that Residence Life has no issue with the student paper and was bothered by the confusion that has transpired following writers’ admission that they have had difficulty in speaking to Residence Life staff.
“Any organization that you work for is going to have the people that are authorized to speak on behalf of that organization. The person who generally speaks to any media for Residence Life is me as the director,” she explained. “We do not have a media director,” she added.
Porter proceeded to explain that this authorization policy is established in order to protect the RAs.
“RAs can talk to the press at any time for any reason so long as they are speaking as [a] student. They cannot speak on the behalf of the organization [Residence Life]. That is where that line is drawn. It puts the RAs in a very awkward position when they are asked about their opinions on Residence Life policies. You are essentially asking them ‘did your employer do the right thing?’ That’s a challenge.”
Porter also addressed the rumor that RAs have gotten in trouble for speaking to the press, which she stated was “absolutely untrue.”
“We might ask the RA not to speak on behalf of the department in the future, but we have never [punished] anyone.”
After understanding the reasoning behind it, the position of Residence Life on this issue is understandable. While it is the responsibility of the press to ask the big questions, there is a line of ethics that must be drawn, especially when it comes to working with fellow students.
Prodding an RA for their opinion to the point that they feel uncomfortable is not appropriate. Porter revealed that she was aware of instances in which RAs told student journalists that they were not allowed to speak when in actuality they were uncomfortable with being questioned about Residence Life policies.
As journalists, we must be careful to respect the privacy of our sources and not force them to speak about subjects they are uncomfortable speaking about, especially when working with students. It is unethical to force someone into stating an opinion that may put them in a difficult position with an employer, a family member, etc. Additionally, it is important to understand all sides of a story before jumping to the conclusion that someone is hiding something, which is a common assumption in regards to the Residence Life controversy.