This is the second part of a series of stories in The Guidon looking at issues around sex, love and the health risks of promiscuity on campus at Norwich University. Complaints about the stories prompted a move to pull the paper from student mailboxes, an order Pres. Richard Schneider rescinded, backing the right of The Guidon to publish. See related stories: Norwich females weigh in on male attitudes on sex; Not worried about STDs? Here’s a host of reasons why NU students should be concerned
The hot topic both on the Norwich University (NU) campus and on the non-Norwich affiliated Facebook page “Norwich Confessions” were two controversial articles in “The Guidon’s” latest issue, published Nov. 21.
The stories, on male students’ sexual attitudes and a vulgarly named McDonald’s sandwich that some students favor, led to “The Guidon” being pulled and later returned as students readied to leave for Thanksgiving vacation.
On Thursday, Nov. 21, The Guidon was delivered as usual to the mail room to be to be distributed. By late Friday morning, however, the mail room staff received a call to remove every paper to be immediately placed into trash bags and recycled.
While the notice came from the office of President Richard Schneider, the president himself was not the one who called the mail room.
“I was in California raising money to keep you guys in school,” said Schneider, who heard about the removal of the newspaper from distribution after the fact.
“It was a person that acted in good faith, knew that I wasn’t here, (and) felt that that’s what should happen,” Schneider said, referring to the individual who sent out the order in his absence. Schneider said that decision was a mistake.
“I explained to that person that should never happen.”
“When I found out when I got back, I told them to put (the newspapers) back,” he said.
The President’s office received three complaints about the articles, all of which were by alumni, and one letter of criticism to the faculty advisor.
Schneider said he had his own opinions on the articles that prompted the criticism, but said that was not the issue. “This is a student paper,” he said, “I want the student paper relevant to students and I’ve never exercised any kind of administrative control over the paper.”
Though a student-run organization on campus, NU pays for the publication of The Guidon out of the university’s budget, with some funding from advertising.
“We pay for (the Guidon),” Schneider said, “but basically you guys (the students) pay for it in your student fees and stuff like that.”
Some students, such as Timothy Annese, 20, a sophomore communications major from Newton, Mass., were not happy with how the administration handled the situation.
“I think they overstepped their boundaries astronomically,” Annese said. Annese felt that even though the articles were not necessarily showing off Norwich’s positive aspects, the administration was “censoring something that shouldn’t be censored.” He went on to say, “It’s information. It’s not meant to be offensive to anybody.”
Kevin Fallon, 19, a sophomore international studies major from Washington D.C., shared a similar view. “If people don’t like it they don’t have to read it, they can throw it out.”
In response to two anonymous posts regarding the stories, parents, alumni, and current students shared opinions on Norwich Confessions, several of which took issue with the content and topics of the stories.
Reporter Stacey Avnes, a 19-year-old sophomore communications major from Los Angeles, Calif., wrote the article that spelled out, based on extensive interviews she conducted, differing male attitudes on campus about casual sex. She defended her article against the backlash.
Avnes said she was “extremely surprised that a lot of people did not like the article.” The comments, as well as some messages she received, were “tearing apart” her article, claiming that “it wasn’t ‘news’ and was too vulgar for a school paper,” Avnes said. “If people don’t like the truth, then that is their problem and they can get over it,” Avnes said.
Her reason for writing the article and not interviewing women in it, said Avnes, was to show the variety of views about sex on campus solely from the male perspective, which she said interested her more. “They are often seen as somewhat ‘heroes’ for having sex with several people,” she said. She noted that, as a woman living on the NU campus, it seemed to her that “girls are shamed for the same action.”
Pres. Schneider noted that because of the topic, Avnes had to rely on males to accurately describe their experiences. He noted there was no way she was able to check if her sources were telling the truth or not, so he described the article as being more about their “perceptions than truth.” He did, however, think “the article was pretty well balanced with guys that just wanted to have friends with privileges, to people that were saving themselves for the right person.”
The fact that the article revealed students were having unprotected sex was more disturbing than the fact students claimed to be having casual sex, Schneider said – although he was not a fan of that either. “Just hooking up to hook up is not safe. This is the part that bothered me the most to learn, is how arrogant and stupid some of our students are to have unprotected sex.”
Schneider believes he has done all he can as the president by talking to General Vanecek about providing more education “on why you shouldn’t have unprotected sex.”
The idea that students would indulge in unsafe sex practices, as the many males in the article revealed, may be a catalyst for more educational opportunities about the topic, according to Schneider. “I think we need to start talking about unprotected sex,” he said. “That is a great risk to my students and I worry about anything that puts them at risk.”
That issue was not the only one that Norwich’s president reacted to in the article. He said that he was shocked that women would be willing to have unprotected sex with these male students. “To have unprotected sex, period, is the most stupid thing ever and just a great threat to everybody,” he said. “This one jerk in here that says, ‘Well I’m clean so it’s perfectly fine.’ Well how does he know that she is?”
Schneider said that he is thrilled for the conversation, but thinks Avnes should have included some national statistics to give it a greater context than just personal opinion or experiences.
Schneider also said that he believes that the responses are just how our culture is today. “Friends with privileges was not a term my generation came up with,” Schneider said. “I think it is a very important topic that’s relevant to our students, but the thing that I learned is how cavalier some of them are. That’s assuming they’re telling the truth.”
Another administration member, Andrea Talentino, dean of the College of Liberal Arts (COLA), had a similar view to Schneider on the male sexuality story. (The Guidon, which is part of the communications department, falls under the administrative jurisdiction of COLA . “Was that an important issue that says a lot about our community and the people in it? Yeah,” said Talentino.
“Should it be published and should there be discussion about it? Sure,” Talentino said. “There is no reason not to, (but) I think the article could have been done better and I think it would have been valuable to have a counter point either in that article or another one.”
While she might have preferred a different approach on the article, she said there was no doubt the relevance of the topic to the student body makes the story valid for publication. “It was certainly an appropriate and legitimate topic for publishing in a school paper, or any paper,” Talentino said.
On the other hand, there was little support for a story on the vulgarly named “McGangbang” sandwich.
“I think the ‘McGangbang’ thing is ridiculous,” Schneider said. “It’s not newsworthy, but if you want pop culture in the paper, I guess that’s a pop culture thing.”
Though admittedly unsavory to some, the story was written about a real pop culture phenomenon. “When you Google it, you find a lot of references to this,” he said, “but I think this is insulting to a lot of people.”
The controversy about the story, he said, has to do with how the name of the sandwich is disparaging of women. “I think it’s demeaning to women, which I think is a problem,” Schneider said.
Talentino said she felt the topic was legitimate but was poorly written. She suggested the reporter should have written more on the social aspect of the sandwich. “I recognize that (it’s) a social trend,” Talentino said. “I ‘Googled’ it (and) you can get dozens of websites of people eating sandwiches and McDonald’s statements on them.”
In sum, Talentino said she felt the articles themselves were not offensive, but rather some elements within the articles were. For his part, Pres. Schneider affirmed that “The Guidon” is a student newspaper that publishes stories that are relevant to the students, and said he often finds it informative. “I read it from cover to cover and I always learn something,” he said.
After the controversy over the articles and the paper being put in the trash and then rescued, Schneider is looking for a positive outcome. “I’m delighted we exposed a topic that needs to be talked about,” Schneider said, “so in the end we can make good out of controversy.”
An avid reader of the student paper, Schneider said that he will continue to support “The Guidon.”
“I’m looking forward to reading the next edition – and you can quote me on that.”