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Free speech controversy brewing at Elon University

One of North Carolina’s preeminent private colleges is ground zero this week for a fascinating controversy over censorship and freedom of the press. 

The university’s student-run news network published a stirring editorial this week documenting claims that efforts were made to bar student reporters and photographers from documenting a recent panel discussion of last month’s racial tumult in Charlottesville, Virginia.

While the editorial did not name the individual or individuals who attempted to do so, the piece makes for a fascinating example of the tension that sometimes exists between student reporters and institutions of higher education.

From Elon News Network:

Freedom of speech and press are foundational rights that must be protected in order to uphold a democratic society. While Elon University is a private institution, those protections should still be applied to students.

Last week, a reporter and a photographer for Elon News Network arrived at Whitley Auditorium to cover a panel discussion on the protests and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Once there, the reporter was told that she would not be permitted to film any part of the discussion, and the photographer was told not to take pictures.

Later, ENN published a web article about the panel, including the names of the panelists and quotes from the discussion. The reporter was then asked to take down the names of the panelists and delete the photos used.

But, several notable faculty and staff members and academic departments tweeted quotes and photos from the panel. It was also promoted via email by the university, including the names of the panelists and some of their headshots.

So why then was student media censored?

The protests in Charlottesville are relevant to our campus and Elon students should be able to learn more about what happened from this panel. The panel itself discussed free speech and the difficulties journalists face while reporting. To bar student journalists from covering that event directly conflicts with the overall message.

If administrators begin keeping student media from events like this, who’s to say what other events or stories the university can try to censor?

The students, faculty and staff at Elon need student media organizations to spread inform the public. The university is doing a disservice to the Elon community by trying to keep students from informing their peers about issues and events on campus.

Keeping students from covering events such as the one last week goes against our university’s commitment to experiential learning and free speech. Students should not be kept from reporting on public panels and events on campus.

One Comment


  1. Barbara O'Brien Whitley '72

    September 19, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    Oh Dr. Danielly, Nothing changes. Sounds just like the 1970’s Viet Nam student games. Students have no right to speak for the university . They do have a right to speak in private . Students read the small print . There is a difference. You are not new . The issues are not knew. The process is adgating with different pressures. Take a sociology and social justice class. Learn how you are merely the “victim of the system” before you try to change or join it. Who’s the Elon president these days anyway?

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