Los Angeles City College may have recently ushered in a new college president, but one thing remains unchanged: its disregard for the rights of the student press.
Between kicking student journalists out of public spaces and events and breaking from the usual practice of hosting issues of The Collegian student newspaper on its website, LACC administrators continue to perpetuate mistreatment that dates back over a decade.
Last spring, LACC faced scrutiny by the Los Angeles Times after administrators kicked student journalists out of college events and facilities while they were taking pictures for the paper. One administrator forced a student to leave a college concert because the administrator incorrectly dubbed it a “private event.” Campus sheriff’s deputies confronted another student because his taking pictures supposedly made building staff feel “unsafe.” Of course, the First Amendment fully protects these routine newsgathering practices.
FIRE’s Student Press Freedom Initiative first wrote LACC on June 1, urging it to stand up for its student journalists and ensure their right to access campus spaces and events in order to gather news. SPFI received no response.
In the wake of these incidents and at the start of the fall semester, college administrators drafted a policy attempting to address the access issues. But rather than correct LACC’s practice of violating the First Amendment, the draft policy placed the burden to address the problem on the students, requiring them to seek and receive advance permission to photograph or film virtually anywhere on campus.
Join FIRE by emailing President Gebru to tell him to stop restricting student journalists’ rights.
So SPFI wrote LACC a second time on Sept. 18, urging it not to move forward with the policy and to respect students’ rights. LACC Public Relations Manager Shaena Engle responded that day, emphasizing that the policy was still a draft and that she was considering feedback from Collegian students and their adviser, Rhonda Guess.
Unfortunately, hope for resolution of our LACC concerns was short-lived, extending only about two weeks.
On Oct. 1, we learned that, breaking with a history of publishing The Collegian on LACC’s website, LACC and the Los Angeles Community College District IT department refused to publish the paper’s first issue of the semester — which, quite notably, contained criticisms of the college administration. Administrators claimed this was due to asserted “accessibility concerns” with the paper’s digital file — though they had never raised such concerns before — referring to errors with image tagging and reading order, but offering no elaboration. Collegian adviser Guess, and other staffers at the paper, feared the decision stemmed from the issue’s content.
LACC has now refused to publish three issues of The Collegian thus far this semester. However, the college has no problem hosting other materials on its website that appear to present similar “accessibility issues.” For example, when SPFI conducted an accessibility check using Adobe Acrobat on the live file of the college’s fall 2023 class schedule, the program detected 20 such problems. The schedule remains on the website, while LACC refuses to post The Collegian.
Now, SPFI, joined by the Student Press Law Center, have written LACC a third time, criticizing its continued disregard for student press rights and asserting that the college cannot justify withholding the paper from its website because of the content of its reporting. As we wrote:
Student journalists at The Collegian must be free to write about what they please—including describing their frustrations with the college’s administrators, providing an unedited transcript of an interview with its new president, or discussing the state of free speech at campus—without fear the college will refuse to recognize the paper’s rights at any sign of bad publicity.
And if you’re as hopeful as we were that reporting access issues may have improved for Collegian journalists in the meantime, you’ll be disappointed, too. Collegian staff report to SPFI that LACC leadership continues to suppress student news gathering, with administrators forcing a student reporter to stop photographing a food bank outside the college’s student union because she was allegedly making others uncomfortable.
Despite these roadblocks, student reporters at The Collegian continue to deliver the on-the-ground reporting about campus and local issues on which the LACC community relies. Fortunately for The Collegian, SPFI is always looking for unique ways to support student journalists — so if LACC won’t put The Collegian on its website, we’ll host it on ours.
Of course, we always hold out hope that, even after a decade of student press censorship, the college can turn a new page. LACC’s new president, Amanuel Gebru, has the opportunity to start off his tenure by making up for the college’s past wrongdoings and standing up for the rights of the student press. Join FIRE by emailing President Gebru to tell him to stop restricting student journalists’ rights.
We're joined by First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza and British journalist Brendan O'Neill to discuss the state of free speech in the United States and Europe. Randazza is a First Amendment attorney and the managing partner at Randazza...