Last December, I wrote here on The Torch about a University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) professor’s repeated sexual harassment complaints against independent student newspaper The Sun Star. Two articles prompted the complaints: one satirical April Fool’s Day article about “a new building in the shape of a vagina” and one investigative piece on the “UAF Confessions” Facebook page. After FIRE wrote to the university in January explaining the danger to a free press created by UAF’s months-long investigation into the newspaper’s protected expression, the investigation finally concluded with the correct outcome.
The whole ordeal—spanning from April 2013 to February 2014—weighed heavily on Sun Star staff members. This past spring, I flew all the way over to Fairbanks to speak with then-editor-in-chief Lakeidra Chavis, former editor-in-chief Elika Roohi, and faculty adviser Robyne about the details of the case and the chilling effect the investigation had on the newspaper.
In FIRE’s newest video, hear from Lakeidra herself about how UAF’s failure to defend the newspaper against these unfounded allegations hindered her goal of bringing attention to serious and important issues like sexual assault on campus. Find out what motivated Lakeidra and Elika to publish the articles at issue and why they were shocked to find their newspaper subject to an investigation.
First Amendment violations don’t always come in the form of prior review, suspension, or expulsion. Sometimes censorship is effected through the threat of punishment. When student journalists do not feel free to report on controversial issues or provide commentary on the university’s culture, the whole community suffers. As FIRE has emphasized before, the student press serves many vital functions for its writers and its readers. Further, Torch readers know that public institutions like UAF are legally and morally bound by the First Amendment and must uphold students’ right to freedom of speech and of the press.