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College newspaper refuses to publish conservative student’s rebuttal to critics

Watchdog group pushes for Emerson student publication to change course, allow op-ed

A free speech activism watchdog group recently started a campaign calling on the student newspaper at Emerson College to publish a piece written by conservative students that has been rejected for about a year.

The group, New Tolerance Campaign, urges its supporters to encourage the student newspaper, the Berkeley Beacon, to allow the op-ed in the name of journalism ethics.

In defense of the conservative students, members of Turning Point USA, New Tolerance Campaign President Gregory Angelo tried to work the situation out internally late last month but did not receive a response. His letter stated that they hoped with the start of the fall semester this month they could come to a successful resolution.

“On August 23 I personally reached out behind-the-scenes to The Beacon’s Editor-in-Chief Vivi Smilgius expressing concerns about the editorial double-standards being applied to op-ed submissions to the paper,” Angelo told The College Fix via email.

“After more than a week without a reply, the New Tolerance Campaign moved ahead with grassroots action publicly calling upon the newspaper to provide the school’s Turning Point USA chapter with the opportunity to rebut the claims made against it in the paper’s pages.”

At issue is an October 2021 opinion piece in the Beacon headlined “Turning Point U.S.A, should there be a voice for them on campus?”

Written by student Justin Chen, it argued the group does not deserve a place on campus. Chen, in his piece, attacked the organization for distributing communism-critical “China kinda sus” stickers earlier that year, calling the group “racist and insensitive.”

“TPUSA Emerson failed to realize that by using the word ‘China,’ the organization is generalizing 1.4 billion people from China and the Asian Community as ‘sus.’ This includes the Chinese international students and Asian-American students at the college,” Chen wrote.

“The administration should demand the leaders of the organization to apologize publicly and disband the organization instead of investigating it.”

Editor-in-Chief of The Beacon Vivi Smilgius refuses to allow the publication of TPUSA President Sam Neves’ rebuttal.

“The Berkeley Beacon reserves the right to decline any opinion piece submitted to us. We declined Sam’s piece due to multiple instances of misinformation and defamation of a named individual,” Smilgius said via email to The College Fix.

“This is not a violation of free speech nor journalism ethics. Plenty of other publications reserve the right not to publish work submitted to them. Many don’t even edit submissions with an eye toward publishing, which we attempted to do.”

“The Beacon supports ideological diversity at Emerson but rejects hate speech,” she said.

But Angelo said the student newspaper is being hypocritical.

“Ms. Smilgius cited concerns about instances of ‘defamation,’ ‘misinformation,’ ‘aggression towards a named individual,’ and ‘questionable conjecture’ in Neves’ proposed retort — but the Berkeley Beacon applied no such standards to Mr. Chen’s piece, which asserted TPUSA promotes ‘racist’ views, is guilty of ‘spreading falsehoods,’ termed TPUSA’s founder Charlie Kirk a ‘con artist,’ and questioned whether the very ‘existence’ of TPUSA should be allowed,” Angelo told The Fix.

Representatives of Emerson College’s media affairs department did not respond to repeated requests for comment asking where the university stands on the matter.

In an email to The College Fix, Neves said he sees this situation as indicative of larger problems in journalism today.

“The reason that trust in the media is at an all-time low is because there’s very little accountability when journalists publish false stories. If we want Americans to trust the media again, we can never let journalists get away with lying,” he said

“Even a year later, our club has still not recovered from the character assassination promoted by the Emerson administration and the Berkeley Beacon. Many potential members fear that if they join our club, they’ll be punished by the administration or defamed by the Beacon, and Emerson isn’t doing much to prove them wrong.”

Neves’ rebuttal with attached comments from Smilgius can be read here.

MORE: Emerson College cancels Turning Point USA after months of investigation and censure


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About the Author
Jackson Walker -- University of Wisconsin Madison