On May 4, I wrote the following letter to one of the reporters, Sarah Knebel, who wrote about what happened to me on campus in early March.  I continue in my appeal to you editors, Alexa Gambero and Sofia Jeremias, and faculty advisor, Dr. Shawny Anderson.  

Dear Sarah, 

I would like to ask who the faculty advisor is and who the editor-in-chief is of the newspaper.  I thought about this deeply over the last few days and it was confirmed by […] my feelings in seeing the article in person.  

While the article itself was factual and balanced, the headline leaned towards sensationalizing.  I have never seen a victim’s name printed in bold letters and above the fold.  I don’t know if this was to engage in respectability politics, as in, how could this happen to her, or in an attempt of shaming me for reporting what occurred.  It could be read as either, and from my understanding of journalism – as I said, I majored in the field in college – I believe that there are ethics for telling the story without doing additional harm.  

In the end, what happened to me is not about me, nor isolated to me.  The fact that it happened in this community is the story, which is much of what I gathered from the article itself, but the headline is troubling.  By focusing only on me, in the use of my name, not as a public figure commenting about something but as a member of the community affected by hate speech/racial epithet, the newspaper essentially focused only on the one occurrence, as if there is no problem at Saint Mary’s with institutional racism, systemic racism, and specifically, anti-blackness. 

Please forward this email onto the faculty advisor and editor-in-chief.  My complaint is not about subjectivity or objectivity; it is about what could be perceived as the manipulation of my name to sensationalize and to minimize.  I would like to talk to them. 

When I sent this letter, you editors and faculty advisor reached out to me to set up a meeting and I added additional concerns.  In the article titled, “Hate crime committed against Professor Raina León”, there were a number of factual errors.  It was not a hate crime; rather, it was hate speech.  Though the speech and the situation presented an implied threat, I was not the victim of physical violence.  Despite the best efforts of Public Safety, no perpetrators were found, though the baseball team was identified and participated in educational programming.  Even if they had been identified – those who had caused the harm through speech and through silence – most likely they would have been recommended for educational programming.  They would not have been charged with a crime.  

Another factual error was in the timing.  While the essay appeared in Vitae of The Chronicle of Higher Education in mid-April, the racial epithet was flung against me the first week of March.  In my own blog, I chart all of what followed in the aftermath, how many offices and people I contacted for nearly a month – beyond the stated time frame of the BIRT process – long before the column appeared and the president issued his message.  

Let me repeat that:  coming to a point of any remedy from the university (besides being issued a parking space for the semester, because I did not and still do not feel safe) took nearly a month.  After that, there were two workshops with the team.  The president’s message came out over 6 weeks from when I was dehumanized in language.  

Among other errors:  in your article, the team is never identified; the location of the original column from me is not named until much later in the Collegian article and it is not linked in the online version of the piece; and while my colleagues Dr. Claude-Rheal Malary and Dr. Cynthia Ganote offer much to the piece and to the campus through their continued social justice work, people who perhaps had a larger connection to what occurred, like the Athletics Director, Baseball coach, or workshop facilitators, were not interviewed.  

I was not interviewed.  

By reading my story, there was an assumption on the part of the reporters and of The Collegian as a whole, that you knew my whole story.  You read an essay that presented much of the aftermath in the immediate hours, but you did not learn about how I felt in that moment; how I immediately filed a BIRT report and also emailed faculty and administrators across the college; how I received countless emails of compassion and those of the inaction I describe in my essay; how I also received more stories of racism and sexism and intersectional aggressions that have happened in the last few months to others; how I learned again what I already knew, that what happened to me was not just happening to me, rather it was one data point in a confluence of racism and misogyny.  The distant news that roils and strikes terror out there, the ever out there, was very close indeed.  

Through it all, I have been affected, called upon to perform additional emotional labor while also negotiating my own anger and sorrow.  I believe deeply in the Lasallian mission and work, and I believed that we on campus are in a contract with one another around Catholic and Lasallian values.  That has been challenged.  

After our meeting, I recognize that there was a desire to shield me from engaging in more emotional labor, but I should have had a choice in being interviewed.  I should have had the choice to say that I did not want my story told or to rely only on the resources I could passively supply.  I did not have a choice.

Finally, I take much offense at the title of the article as indicated earlier.  I am not a public personality or politician with the expectation that my name may be used in headlines.  I am a professor and a poet, who, after having been marginalized and verbally attacked through the used of a powerfully charged racial epithet, was placed in the role of victim in a headline. I had students and colleagues, many who never even introduced themselves to me, express their condolences as if a part of me had died, as if I had no agency in my resistance through writing and action.  More compassion and inaction.  

It is not mine to write a headline, but I do believe that a staff of journalists, even as they begin in the craft, should be thinking about their ethical decisions, from who is interviewed to the impact (beyond intent) of a headline or phrasing within it and the story itself.  If the editors had asked, Will this do more harm? What harm might this headline or omissions within the article do?, perhaps I might have been interviewed, the headlined reconsidered, more people interviewed, etc.  These questions were not asked.  

We live, work, and study at an educational institution. I identify deeply as an educator. I want your future editorial staff to consider holding regular conversations with student journalists around the journalist ethics, using case studies from The Collegian’s past.  I know that you have a revolving staff and the buzz of a thriving newsroom.  The news never rests; still, the craft and ethics of journalistic writing is important.  It should be a part of the newsroom culture, one that promotes lifelong learning.  

We have already spoken about possible changes in the article itself, the online content, and an additional piece in the campus newsletter from you editors.  

I close by emphasizing that what happened to me was heinous and dehumanizing.  It was a violation of our Catholic and Lasallian values.  I was not shocked by the overt display of racism, though, on our campus.  In my six years at Saint Mary’s, I have been a student, staff member, and faculty member.  For a short time, I was all three at the same time.  In those different roles, I have experienced a great deal; I have also received the stories and witnessed the pain of students, staff, and faculty who have been here longer.  That pain is deep and significant.

What is the university doing to seek remedy to that pain and proactively create a community that fully honors its shared values?  When does it fail and how does it respond to failure?  These, too, are stories.  Sadly, mine is just a part.

In hopes for the work ahead,

Dr. Raina J. León

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  1. Pingback: Campus culture compromised by hate speech — The Collegian

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