By Ashley Wall, Editor-in-Chief
By Cara McCarthy, Associate Editor
Framingham State University’s independent student newspaper, The Gatepost, received two formal censorship requests from University organizations during the month of April.
The first request came from the co-chairs of the University’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) in an email April 6.
The censorship request was in regard to an Instagram post promoting the Oct. 16 issue of The Gatepost. In the post, an image of the newspaper’s front page contains a feature photo of FSUPD Sgt. Martin Laughlin wearing a Blue Lives Matter mask while supporting the Pink Patch breast cancer awareness project.
The email was signed by CDI co-chairs Kelly Matthews, an English professor, Emmanuella Gibson, executive administrative assistant to the vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement (DICE), and Malik Martin, class of 2023 president.
In the email, they state, “As the faculty, staff, and student co-chairs of the FSU Council for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), we are writing to request that you take down an image on The Gatepost Instagram page, a photo of the front page of The Gatepost issue dated October 16, 2020.”
They added, “The flag on the police officer’s mask is one that has been identified with groups that oppose #BlackLivesMatter, and therefore many police departments across the U.S. have banned this flag from any paraphernalia worn by their officers.”
In response to their email, The Gatepost executive team replied, “The role of journalists is to record and present all points of view in their community. The Gatepost does not make decisions about reporting and photography based on a preferred ideological framework. Rather, it is our ethical responsibility to set aside our own biases and belief systems in order to be as objective as possible.”
The University issued a public statement in response to this censorship request. “The United States Constitution establishes boundaries in the First Amendment that restrict the government from ‘abridging the freedom of speech, or the press.’
“As a public agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Framingham State University honors this freedom and through its continued support and commitment to The Gatepost since 1932, respects the student writers’ and contributors’ rights to report news and other topical information that enhances the University’s community. These rights are honored to the full extent of the law to both print and digital content,” the statement added.
Additionally, President F. Javier Cevallos said in an interview, “Obviously, from a University point of view, we protect and defend the First Amendment. We will never support any kind of censorship of anything that the newspaper, or any other organization, puts in print or in digital form.”
Cevallos added, “I know that you [The Gatepost] have always had a very strong commitment as an editorial board to issues of diversity and inclusion.
“One of the things The Gatepost is very strong about is anti-racism, diversity, inclusion, and respect for everyone,” he said.
Cevallos added although the email was sent on behalf of the CDI, “they will not represent the University’s official position in this matter at all.”
He noted that while censorship requests are inappropriate, “conversations are really important.”
He said, “We have to understand that some of those conversations can indeed be painful. And, they are. And, those are difficult conversations that can elicit a lot of emotional responses, but they can never take over the legal aspects of the rights of newspapers.”
Cevallos added asking for a conversation is “totally different” than making a formal censorship request.
“That is a very distinct line that you cannot cross,” he said.
Constanza Cabello, vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, said she was not aware that the CDI co-chairs made a censorship request of The Gatepost.
“The Gatepost has responsibilities to journalism and the CDI has a responsibility to diversity and inclusion. And it feels like those two things are colliding right now,” she said. “I absolutely support the newspaper in their rights.”
Cabello added, “I wish everything went down a different way and I think what we probably would have found is more similarities and perspectives.”
She said there should be conversations between journalists and organizations on campus concerning the rights of the student newspaper.
Cabello added, “I always feel like if we can just get people in a room together to have a conversation, we could avoid so much conflict or hurt feelings or misinterpretation.”
She said she is “not happy about the situation,” but hopes “this is a learning opportunity for everybody.”
In their April 6 email, the CDI co-chairs added, “As co-chairs of CDI, we recently filed a report with the FSU Bias Education Response Team (BERT) stating that we feel it should be the policy of the FSU Police Department not to wear this mask and not to show this flag, since it is widely recognized as a racist symbol.”
According to Framingham State Chief of Police Brad Mederios, the mask in question was not issued by the Department.
“We do have a University Police policy on issued uniforms and equipment that is pretty specific,” Mederios said. “When I realized as chief that somebody was wearing something that was not authorized, I put out a directive to all of my supervisors to make sure they inspect everyone’s mask.”
Mederios said the directive began when “the BERT complaint was filed,” which was “long after The Gatepost published the Pink Patch fundraiser article.”
Mederios also said Laughlin – the officer in the photo – “didn’t wear that [Blue Lives Matter] mask to offend anybody. It was not motivated by racism.”
He said, “The blue-line emblem itself was developed to show support in solidarity with law enforcement personnel who were either injured on duty or died in the line of duty – very similar to the red line flag that supports fire services personnel with the same situation.
“By no means do we want our department to not support Black Lives Matter, and it was never worn to be an opponent of Black Lives Matter. We didn’t believe it to be on our end.”
He added FSUPD is “a supporter of Black Lives Matter.”
When contacted for comment, Laughlin said, “I believe he [Chief Mederios] spoke on my behalf.”
In addition to the censorship request from the CDI co-chairs, The Gatepost received a message from the SGA Instagram account April 15, stating, “It was brought to our attention that students are upset that you still have a photo of an FSUPD officer wearing a Blue Lives Matter mask up on your Instagram.
“[We] think it is in everyone’s best interest to take the photo down and issue a public apology,” SGA added.
The Gatepost responded through email to the censorship request from SGA. “By asking us to remove the photo of our issue which was published in October, you are requesting that we pretend that the photo did not exist.
“This is simply a disservice to the community and a violation of our First Amendment rights as a newspaper. The Gatepost objectively covers all aspects of our community.”
In addition to the Instagram message, concerns about the image were also brought up during an open forum at the SGA meeting April 20.
Concerns about the image were also brought up during a “Towers Talk” meeting, a public event hosted in Corinne Hall Towers April 15. After the meeting, a number of resident students banged on the doors of two Gatepost staff members demanding the image be taken down.
Cevallos said, “The newspaper has the absolute right to refuse to make any changes to anything that has been published.”
He added, “I wish it would have been handled in a different approach because when you put things in writing, it escalates.”
The Gatepost reached out to SGA President Olivia Beverlie, who responded that she would refuse to comment on the situation.
The Gatepost also reached out to CDI co-chairs Matthews, Gibson, and Martin, but they did not respond to a request for an interview.