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40 editors at NYU's student newspaper quit over 'racist' advisor

The editorial staff at New York University's student newspaper is resigning after their university-appointed editorial advisor accused of "racism" was hired.

Mia Cathell The Post Millennial
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The editorial staff at New York University's student newspaper is resigning after their university-appointed editorial advisor accused of "racism" was hired.

The Washington Square News (WSN) wrote an open letter from the 40 staffed editors "publicizing the grievances" that led to their decision.

"[W]e understand that continuing to work at WSN in our current circumstance would do more harm than good, and we refuse to condone what we have seen over the past three weeks," the address prefaced the widely-felt undermining of their authority as student journalists.

Three weeks ago, the news outlet's editor-in-chief was allegedly fired without warning and with no sufficient explanation. His termination resulted in the new editorial advisor, Dr. Kenna Griffin, an employee of the university separate from the publication's board. Her relationship to WSN and "the amount of power she held" were reportedly "never clarified."

"Though she initially claimed that she would include the managing staff in the process of defining her role, she has yet to follow through with that promise," the editors explained.

Since Griffin's hire, authors claim that WSN has "faced numerous challenges in publication and cohesion."

"Dr. Griffin was increasingly rude and disrespectful to the staff, despite being repeatedly reminded that her words had a negative effect on staff morale," the complaint continued. "Dr. Griffin was unnecessarily harsh, and when confronted about her behaviour, would defend it by arguing that WSN's staff is too immature to accept critique."

Her feedback was supposedly critical even when students followed her instructions and was "almost always personal." Her defence: the paper was "unable to accomplish anything" without her guidance.

"This is untrue; WSN has implemented her advice on multiple occasions," the students argued. "WSN has been operating in a state of uncertainty and distress since our EIC was fired."

WSN’s publications board, 50 percent of which is composed of NYU journalism professors, has yet to name a successor, the notice cited. "This means that WSN has operated without an EIC for three weeks and has still been expected to perform as well—on some occasions better—than we have in the past."

"We cannot continue to do business as usual without a leader and when we are afraid of retribution," the student-run organization purported, claiming they cannot "function normally with the new factor of fear of Dr. Griffin." She allegedly belittled the young professionals. Those offended by her words were called sensitive and told "they should not be a journalist," the letter recounted.

WSN continued to publish without editorial representation in its publications board. The editor-in-chief is the only student member of the board from the editorial side.

"This has left us to trust that Dr. Griffin, who is not a member of the publications board but holds considerable influence over it, will accurately portray us to the board and will act in our best interests," the editors went on. Griffin was asked repeatedly to soften language and allegedly refused each time. "This led to a vicious cycle in which we could not please Dr. Griffin and so she would lash out at us, which in turn would lead us to produce poorer work which did not help."

In one particular instance, WSN published an article about the Breonna Taylor protests stemming from the Kentucky grand jury's decision not to charge the responding officers involved in her death. Griffin reportedly displayed disrespect to WSN's black staff members, leading to one individual to accuse Griffin of intolerance.

"Dr. Griffin took this criticism poorly—she defended herself arguing that there was no proof of her racism, and demanded to speak with a Black student before admitting guilt, which she still has not done," the editors described the incident.

Griffin then suggested that the black student write an op-ed, illustrating her thoughts and feelings surrounding civil unrest in Louisville.

"We are not comfortable continuing to work in an environment that trivializes Black voices when they speak up and then uses them for personal gain. This was the straw that broke the collective camel’s back," the students concluded.

The letter then bulleted an exhaustive list of alleged occurrences involving Griffin. She was slated for "transphobic rhetoric" after pressuring an editor to reveal their "real name" when the student disclosed their "non-cisgender gender identity." The advisor also dismissed trigger warnings on articles covering sexual assault, which she marked the disclaimers unnecessary, and stated that racism is a matter of subjectivity. Notably, Griffin corrected the paper's usage of "spokesperson" to "spokesman" while "ignoring the need for gender-neutral language in reporting," mandated and outlined in their in-house style guide.

The students in exchange demand Griffin's immediate resignation among other editorial overhauls. Until then, the editorial staff's leave of absence is permanent.

"WSN, at its core, is not a racist publication. We have worked hard to make WSN the safe and loving environment for staff that we know it to be. Dr. Griffin's actions counteract WSN's core values, and the lack of discipline on behalf of the board and the university indicate that as long as Dr. Griffin serves as WSN's editorial advisor, they will continue to remain as intolerant as she is," the editors signed off. "As long as the board holds more power over WSN than its editors, we are not comfortable staying on staff."

The Post Millennial reached out to WSN's editorial staff and Griffin for comment.

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