Despite the fact that the Internet exists and that news can be read online, there are still people who believe they can make a story disappear by throwing away copies of the newspaper that printed it. This appears to be the case at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), where 850 copies of the University Press’ March 29 edition were thrown in the trash, likely in response to the student paper’s coverage of a party where a student alleged she had been raped.
Writing for New Times Broward-Palm Beach last week, FAU student and University Press editor-in-chief Emily Bloch said she believed her cover story, “Party where student was allegedly gang raped last year to happen again,” was the reason the newspapers ended up in the trash. In the story, Bloch reported that an off-campus party—where an FAU student claimed last year that she was sexually assaulted by a group of men—is being held again this month, and that her investigation revealed “multiple documented ties including business records, police reports and social media posts that suggest” FAU fraternity Omega Psi Phi has ties to the event.
Bloch says this story has elicited surprising vitriol from FAU students:
I’ve worked at the University Press for four years, and I’ve never seen such a strong reaction to a story. We’ve covered crimes and schemes before: conspiracist professors, a stadium almost being named after a for-profit prison company, and everything in between. But this one party, where condoms are offered upon walking in and women felt men nibbling on their ears in the dark, has elicited the most powerful number of threats, emails, phone calls, and even personal visits to the newsroom.
Why? I think it’s because nothing is more sacred to college students than their parties. Not their political party. Their parties. You can attack their sports, their parents, their entertainment. But don’t you dare touch their liquor.
Within four hours of its publication on March 29, 300 copies had found their way into dumpsters. By the next day, at least 700 had been trashed. And Bloch reports that a University Press photographer was met with a confrontation when he attempted to take pictures of two women who were destroying newspapers:
“I ran in front of them and turned around and snapped them walking toward me. They proceeded to yell at me, saying I can’t take pictures and I need to delete them.” Then one of the women got in his face.
“One grabbed my arm with both hands trying to get my phone, saying she’d delete the photos.” The women told our photographer if he didn’t delete the photos, their sorority sisters would beat him up. He kept walking.
“They came back, and one said, ‘Now that you did that, I’m going to throw out the rest,’” he said. Two bins where the altercation happened were emptied, and we found the issues later on in the trash.
As we’ve unfortunately had to state too many times before, newspaper theft is exactly what it sounds like—theft. Although student newspapers are usually distributed for free, they still cost money to print, and advertisers pay for space in papers under the belief that the papers will not be thrown into the trash before students can read them.
It’s not even the first time the University Press has dealt with this problem; last year, some (clearly misguided) FAU engineering students stole 1,500 papers to use as material for a class project, and in 2010 an FAU philosophy student was arrested for stealing 2,000 issues, which the University Press suspected was a response to the paper’s coverage of the philosophy department chair’s resignation. Only months before that, a fraternity pledge stole 900 copies of the paper after it published a story on hazing at FAU. It’s especially disappointing to see this happen so often on one campus in such a short amount of time, and, as Bloch explains, it’s disheartening that the inspiration behind this censorship was likely a concern that a party could be affected because a student alleged that she had been raped at it last year:
It’s bittersweet pulling your story out of a trash can lined with empty soda bottles and smoothie cups. It's gross — but far more concerning is that people are more upset over the livelihood of a party than the fact that a girl said she was gang-raped there.
On the other hand, for a paper that students sometimes dismiss as one that “nobody reads,” it sure looks like people were concerned about this issue’s reach.
The staff of the University Press have filed a police report about the thefts and are restocking emptied newspaper bins. Hopefully the newspaper’s staff will soon be reimbursed for the destroyed papers and find out who censored them. In the meantime, those responsible for attempting to stop others from reading Bloch’s story must come to terms with the fact that they’ve only drawn more attention to the story they wanted to silence.