Student Press Law Center staff writer Suzanne Bell reports on the stolen newspapers.
CALIFORNIA A student editor is working to redistribute copies of her paper containing an article on student suicides that she salvaged from a dumpster last week.
Jane Pojawa, editor in chief of El Vaquero, said she suspects administrators at Glendale Community College confiscated and trashed the issue because of the suicide story. College president John Davitt admitted he had problems with the ethics of the story but denied being responsible for taking the papers.
The article ran in the June 9 edition of the newspaper and named a Glendale Community College nursing student who had recently committed suicide, Pojawa said.
Not long after distribution, Pojawa said staffers started to notice the papers “were disappearing from the stands at a really alarming rate…clearly they weren’t just taken to be read, they were being confiscated.”
Pojawa estimated that nearly 2,000 of the 3,500 copies put out were taken, costing the paper around $2,500.
Davitt, the college’s president, said he understood the paper had a right to print the story, but said he had ethical concerns with the article.
“My problem [with the article] was that it … was put into the newspaper by the student reporter even though she had been told that the family [of the student who committed suicide] requested that it remain private,” Davitt said. “I asked the adviser if he would pull the article and I would pay the cost of re-doing the paper with a different article substituted for the article in question, but he declined.”
Davitt said he also asked Michael Moreau, the paper’s adviser, to pull the article off the paper’s Web site, and Moreau agreed. Pojawa said the article was pulled from the Web site temporarily, but it is currently back online.
Pojawa said she found stacks of the missing papers on Wednesday in a dumpster on campus.
Although Davitt said he was not responsible for the missing papers, he said a custodian or an angry faculty member could have taken them.
Pauline Guiuan, the student who wrote the story, could not be reached for comment, but she told the Glendale News Press she was upset with the situation.
“It’s a student publication and as much as they are protecting some people, we found this information through public sources,” she told the local paper. “And we have freedom of speech. There’s nothing wrong with putting out a story like this to students or the community as a whole.”
After the papers went missing, Pojawa said she tried to file a police report with the Glendale city police. However, because the confiscation occurred on campus, it was not within the city police’s jurisdiction, said Sgt. Tom Lorenz of the Glendale Police Department.
Pojawa then filed a report with campus police.
“I’m getting the run around again,” she said. “They told me that they can’t release any information to me for another seven to 10 days, and that it has to be approved and that they have to approve my reasons for wanting it.”
A representative from Glendale Community College District Police Department said the police department could not comment on the status of the investigation.
Pojawa justified running the article in a letter she sent to the college’s board of trustees. In the letter she stated, “our reporter, Pauline Guiuan, found that suicide is the third leading cause of death among college students…As you are no doubt aware, GCC has had its share of depression, mental illness and suicide and in the last seven months, two nursing students were victims of this unfortunate state of affairs.”
In the letter, Pojawa also discussed the constitutional consequences of the paper’s confiscation.
“The removal of the papers was deliberate and systematic. Censorship is illegal and it is a crime not only against the El Vaquero staff, who put in countless hours on each publication, but against the students, faculty and administrators who count on the El Vaquero to provide them with information about the campus and the community,” Pojawa wrote. “Legally and morally, the students of Glendale College have the right to a free press. It’s guaranteed by the Constitution. The El Vaquero staff have decided to put the story back online, and we will continue to publish our newspaper, and we will continue to raise our voices and our keyboards in support of our fellow students’ right to the truth.”