This past Monday night on "The Bachelor," this year's Miss USA runner-up from Charlotte, NC, Caelynn Miller-Keyes, opened up to Colton, the bachelor, about her experience with sexual assault in college. Also this past Monday, a Buzzfeed reporter wrote about how Plainfield High School's administration decided that sexual assault shouldn't be discussed in any form in the school's newspaper.
I admire Caelynn's bravery, and I'm disappointed in Plainfield High's administration, who still live in a world in which sexual assault and justice are pushed under the rug.
I find the juxtaposition of these two situations very interesting, especially as I'm currently in a class about media law and we're discussing the First Amendment and how it applies to schools. Plainfield High is not the first school to try to censor the school newspaper — the Hazelwood School District did as well in a 1988 Supreme Court case, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.
In a nutshell, students, in that case, wanted to report in their school newspaper on teen pregnancy and birth control, as well as the effects of divorce on students. The school argued that these articles invaded privacy and shared material that would be inappropriate for younger students. When the student editors sued, the case first went to the trial court, which rejected the students' claim. However, when the case was then sent to the Court of Appeals, they reversed, siding with students. When the case was sent to finally be determined by the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court reversed again, siding with the school and their authority to censor their newspaper. This case and the holding, or the final decision, set the precedent that will be referenced in future similar cases.
Admittedly, I don't know as much about "The Bachelor." I haven't watched more than a few minutes of it before, so I can't accurately discuss the season or show as a whole. However, after talking to some friends and engaging in a little research on my own, I know these things: I'm proud of Caelynn for speaking up about her experience and something she finds important in a world that will condemn her for it. I appreciate how she's also using her story to create solidarity and support others, even though I believe it's also okay if a survivor decides to focus on their own story and healing.
When it comes to Plainfield High, I know these things: sexual assault is a complicated issue, especially when your own students are involved. However, when the student reporters compromised their want to report on the offending student by simply reporting on sexual assault prevention — something that is undoubtedly apolitical and incredibly important — the school denied that as well. They argued that these stories could cause fights, defamation, and even suicide.
While I'm certainly sensitive to these issues, I'd like to see the statistics first.
According to a student, the school is too concerned with its image to share the story about the offending student.
There's a small part of me that gets it from a public relations standpoint. However, I believe there's an ethical and moral issue here that overrides that: the safety and well-being of students. It trumps the school's reputation, and frankly, should be a large part of their mission and goal anyway. In addition, this discussion on violence prevention is important to have as early as possible and can be even more effective when it's had with peers. I see nothing about this conversation that should be censored.
"At the same time, when something is censored, you know it's censored because something about it is important," said Halle Newman, a student, and co-author of the school newspaper's article.
Julia Shannon-Grillo, another student and co-author of the article, added, "The law makes us confident that the public wants us to be covering more significant stories, not just be a student newspaper covering the sports games."
I agree with Shannon-Grillo and Halle Newman wholeheartedly. I also want to praise Miller-Keyes again for speaking up for her own well-being and for that of others who have had similar experiences or know someone who has and may not fully understand. I hope these individuals will help those who disagree see sexual assault and prevention in a new light, as these discussions are vital to the safety and well-being of all. Violence is a public health issue that we must address early and often.