Student Press Law Center | Georgia State University pulls student-produced magazine from freshman orientation
GEORGIA — Georgia State University in Atlanta has pulled a student-run magazine from bags handed out to incoming freshmen at orientation. The reason for the last minute change depends on whom you ask.
Administrators said printing the 52-page magazine used too much paper. Editors say a story about students with alternative jobs, including a stripper, a sugar baby, a marijuana dealer and a black market iPhone flipper, may have contributed to the decision to pull the publication.
The Signal publishes an annual summer magazine, The Urbanite.From 2014 to 2018, The Urbanite was included in orientation bags through an agreement with the university’s orientation team.
On June 3, university Director of International Student and Scholar Services Heather Housley notified The Signal’s Editor-in-Chief Daniel Varitek of the decision to remove the magazine. Ten thousand copies of The Urbanite had already been printed.
“This review includes consideration of all the information we provide during orientation, including how to avoid using paper as much as possible,” Housley said in the email.
Varitel said,“It seemed like an abrupt decision, especially since I had been talking to [Housley] about a month and a half prior, planning to have The Urbanite delivered to new student orientation.”
Varitek didn’t believe that the concern for paper usage was the entire reasoning for the decision, especially since the paper’s staff had already delivered 2,000 copies to the administrative offices.
“I figured there was an underlying reason there. It wasn’t adding up to me,” Varitek said.
Ada Woods, news editor at The Signal, said she and the rest of the staff worked on the magazine for most of the spring semester.
“A month and a half before we even started writing, we were storyboarding ideas for stories and for incorporating the writing and design together,” said Woods. “In every single section, the writers were working really hard, and then we passed it over to design [team] and they worked on it for weeks.”
We would be doing a disservice to our readership if we did not report on these things.
While The Signal publishes issues weekly, The Urbanite is an annual special summer publication. It is geared toward incoming freshmen, and serves as a guide to the university and the surrounding area. Varitek said that previous issues have included spreads on student organizations, athletics and Greek life.
“This was a very beneficial arrangement to both us and the university,” said Varitek.“The university doesn’t produce content like that.”
Varitek said Housley did not respond to his multiple requests for a meeting. He did eventually meet with Allison Calhoun-Brown, vice president for student engagement and programs.
“I won’t say that they firmly stated ‘we pulled your magazine because of this article’ … but the overarching theme in that meeting was ‘we don’t want to put these magazines in these bags because we don’t want to be seen as endorsing this content.’”
The Signal filed a public records request for communications between administrators and discovered that discussions about the magazine’s inclusion in orientation began in early March.
According to an article Woods wrote for The Signal, early emails indicated that the magazine would be included as it had been in the past. In one of the emails, Housley said that last year’s Urbanite had “excellent content” and said she was “impressed with how useful it would be for incoming students.”
But a May 23 email obtained via public records request indicated that Calhoun-Brown was concerned about the magazine’s content.
“I am reading the Signal’s Urbanite and have some questions about how this publication [sic],” said Calhoun-Brown in an email to Boyd Beckwith, student center director. She attached a scanned image of an article with the headline “Students with alternative jobs”, citing it as the reason for her concern.
“Black marketing selling is not an alternative job, it is a crime,” she continued. Later that day, Calhoun-Brown said in an email that she had decided not to include the magazine in the orientation bags.
Varitek said this reasoning came as a surprise to him.
“This is not the first time we’ve written about this … we’ve never gotten any negative feedback, not from students, faculty, or administration. So it did blindside us a little bit,” said Varitek.
“It’s our duty as an independent newspaper to cover the stories of our students,” Varitek said. “As editor of this newspaper, it’s not my place to say whether I agree with what they do or not. We would be doing a disservice to our readership if we did not report on these things … simply because they do not align with what we believe to be moral.”
We will be lucky to hit maybe 50% of what we’re planning to hit with our distribution.
Despite the revelation of the emails between university administrators, university spokesperson Andrea Anne Jones insists the decision was not due to the content of the magazine.
“The university redesigned almost all aspects of New Student Orientation this year, including the materials distributed to students. As Dr. Allison Calhoun-Brown explained in the meeting with The Signal editor, there was concern about distributing the Urbanite in the bags given to students by the university. It is also true that the university is limiting the amount of print materials being distributed at orientation. There was never an attempt to censor students or the publication,” Jones said in an email.
“The Urbanite is still widely available to students at locations around campus. In addition, The Signal staff has a table at New Student Orientation and has distributing [sic] the publication there,” she continued.
Varitek said distribution now largely falls on the paper’s staff. The magazine’s inclusion in the orientation bags would have guaranteed distribution to 5,000 to 7,000 students. While the paper’s staff had planned on tabling regardless, there is more pressure now, and editors will have to be present at all 20 orientations held throughout the summer.
“We will be lucky to hit maybe 50% of what were planning to hit with our distribution,” said Varitek. “We will have to consider some more creative ways of getting this magazine out.”
“If it’s me on the streets handing this out, I’ll do that.”
SPLC reporter Ginny Bixby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-974-6318. Follow her on Twitter at @Ginny_Bixby.
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