Columns / Discourse / November 14, 2018

Opening up letter to the editor policy

A couple of weeks ago, I received a letter to the editor from Wayne Lela via email. When first reading the email, I truly believed he was a student at Knox, as I have heard the same “conservatives are an oppressed minority” rhetoric on this campus. I started uploading it to our website, since our current letter to the editor policy is that all signed letters will be published, unless the content clearly contains libel or hate speech. I showed my discourse editor, Eden Sarkisian, who asked me who Lela was.

When we realized he was not a member of the Knox community, we Googled him and saw that he was the founder of Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment (HOME). We included that information at the end of the letter, although he did not provide it, because we believed it was necessary context for those who were reading the letter, who would not know who Lela is.

However, what we viewed as “context” should have been grounds to not publish the letter at all. HOME is an anti-LGBTQ+ group that has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. While Lela was not writing the letter on behalf of HOME, he still is the founder of this group, which calls LGBTQ+ people “deviants” and sinners, which spews mindless hate on its website and across college campuses, via letters to the editor like this one and by passing out fliers on college campuses.

In publishing the letter, I thought I was simply abiding by TKS’s letter policy and protecting the freedom of the press by giving a voice to “both sides.” I didn’t want to actively partake in censorship. The letter, as I saw it, was something someone at Knox might write, and I wouldn’t censor a Knox student, in the interest of freedom of the press and speech. Content-wise, I do not think it was worthy of censorship, and we have always judged letters solely on their content, not on their writers.

But somebody at Knox didn’t write it, and there is no excusing that. While Eden and I believed that most people would disagree with the letter and criticize it, and Lela himself, we did not consider the impact and message that publishing a letter signed by the founder of a hate group sends to our readers. It sends the message that we are okay with hate groups having a presence and voice on this campus, even if we disagree with them. We did not stop to consider the impact this would have on students’ mental health and their safety. This was irresponsible. LGBTQ+ people are under attack right now, and giving a voice to somebody actively attacking them was not an okay thing to do. And to anybody we hurt, we apologize.

Running a newspaper is not an easy job, and it is one constantly accompanied by stress. Obviously I have more to learn, and I’d like to make some changes to our letter policy going forward. Starting this week, the letter policy will say, “All signed letters will be considered for publication.” That way, we reserve the right to not publish something we see as dangerous, or from someone we see as dangerous, and to use our own discretion. I have trust in the future editors of TKS to use their discretion as well. I think it is important to publish views and opinions on Knox issues, and I don’t want to silence anybody. But in refusing to silence Lela, I hurt more people than I helped. And I would like to sincerely apologize for that, and do better moving forward.


Erika Riley, Editor-in-Chief
Erika Riley is a junior majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism. During her sophomore year, she worked as a news editor, and during her freshman year, she worked as a layout editor. She is the winner of the 2017 Ida M. Tarbell Prize for Investigative Reporting and the recipient of First Place Front Page Layout from the Illinois Press Association in 2016. Twitter: @ej_riley

Tags:  letter to the editor policy

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