Last week, Hamilton College student newspaper The Spectator reported that almost all issues of another Hamilton student publication, Enquiry, were removed en masse from their distribution spots on the private institution’s New York campus. The Spectator hypothesized that the theft was intended to shield readers from an article on “radical feminism” that had already generated criticism on social media. Both The Spectator and Hamilton’s Student Assembly denounced the act and urged students to engage in counter-speech rather than censorship.
On Wednesday, my colleague Sarah McLaughlin explained the problem of newspaper theft in the context of stolen issues of the University of Tulsa’s student newspaper, the Collegian:
The Collegian may be distributed for free, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t an egregious act of theft. Student newspapers cost real money to produce, and businesses advertise in student newspapers with the expectation that their advertisements will reach students and not be thrown en masse into the trash.
And as those following our Free Press Week coverage know, student publications often bring much-needed attention to matters that affect their communities or even the world outside of campus. Unfortunately, newspapers and other student publications are censored via theft all the time.
That is why it’s reassuring to see Hamilton students push back against this phenomenon. The Spectator wrote last Friday that “no piece, no matter the content, deserves to be thrown in the garbage when more constructive ways of expression are available instead.” The Spectator’s editorial staff suggested that more forums be created so that students can “properly articulate” their responses to pieces in Enquiry rather than “crudely impl[y]” their disapproval “by petty theft.”
Hamilton’s Student Assembly took matters a step further, passing a resolution on Monday supporting free expression and condemning “actions that seek to censor, silence, or otherwise suppress, the free expression of Hamilton College students.” The resolution aptly states that “unfettered free expression is critical to fostering a fruitful and intellectually stimulating environment for both faculty and students,” and notes that theft of student publications is damaging to the college’s mission. FIRE applauds student Marchel Holle for introducing this measure and the Student Assembly for approving it.
The Spectator reports that Campus Safety is attempting to determine who is responsible for the theft of Enquiry. We hope that the perpetrators are ultimately held responsible for their acts, and that Hamilton College’s students learn a valuable lesson from this episode about the value of a free student press.