In a win for the student press, Wichita State University agreed to improve parking privileges for student journalists at The Sunflower when covering university sporting events, putting them on par with those assigned to professional journalists.
Giving student journalists worse parking privileges solely because they are students undermines the value of the student press.
Administrators had previously issued journalists at the independent student paper parking credentials at Charles Koch Arena that differed from those given non-student journalists who cover Wichita State basketball. Due to this differential treatment, student journalists were forced into separate parking farther away from the lot open to other sportswriters.
In January, Sunflower assistant sports editor Emmie Boese wrote a piece criticizing this practice, arguing it is unfair to assign student journalists worse parking privileges than their non-student counterparts. She also cited safety concerns including traversing large crowds with heavy equipment and walking greater distances alone after dark.
On Feb. 2, FIRE wrote Wichita State arguing that student journalists at The Sunflower should receive commensurate privileges to those of non-student journalists, and that giving student journalists worse parking privileges solely because they are students undermines the value of the student press.
Arbitrarily assigning lesser parking privileges to student journalists reflects a disregard for the validity of student journalists’ work. Student journalists like Boese and others at The Sunflower are essential to maintaining informed communities, both on the campuses they cover and in the broader community surrounding campus.
As we wrote in our letter:
There are circumstances where Wichita State may understandably be selective in allocating privileges to reporters without impermissibly discriminating based on their point of view or identity, such as limitations on the space or time available for media presence; Boese herself acknowledges this. However, assigning lesser parking credentials to student journalists solely because they are members of the student press is arbitrary and serves no apparent purpose beyond distinguishing members of the student press as inferior to those of the professional press.
On Feb. 18, Wichita State assistant general counsel Joseph Dempewolf agreed to improve parking privileges for journalists at The Sunflower. Sportswriters at The Sunflower will now receive one spot in the parking lot closest to the stadium and a second spot in the original, farther lot. Boese individually was also offered a spot in the closest lot for the remainder of the women’s basketball season in addition to the other two spots The Sunflower receives.
This change is a victory for members of the student press at Wichita State, as well as for FIRE. With our recently launched Student Press Freedom Initiative, we will continue to fight for student journalists’ rights — whether in the newsroom or the parking lot.
FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533).