Outrage: Community Forum at its Finest

With the launch of the site a few weeks in the past, we have begun to accrue a decent amount of content on the site. We have feature pieces, editorials, campus events, city happenings, and fashion, music, film, and food blog pages.

Upon the initial launch of the site, I wrote this letter explaining the mission of The Phoenix and the specific purposes of the online site:

Hello Sarah Lawrence College,

If you are reading this, then you have successfully navigated to The Phoenix Online. Welcome! We are absolutely stoked to be here and to be delivering you up-to-date news about our campus. After much ado we have finally stepped into the 21st century and upgraded our webpage, because there is way too much to talk about for just one bi-weekly newspaper.

Our goal is to publish accounts of campus events as well as to have individuals voice their opinions and perspectives on issues spanning everything from school politics to popular cultural trends. We are not only an onlinenews source but also a space for discussing, questioning, celebrating, discovering, and exploring everything that comprises Sarah Lawrence culture and beyond.

Anyone who attends or is employed by Sarah Lawrence College may write for this publication (subject to our editing). We host meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesdays in the North Room at the pub where anyone can come to contribute content, share ideas, or just see what we’re all about. We are always looking for new voices and new viewpoints.

In recent years, our print publication has fallen beneath an acceptable standard of publishing, both in terms of timeliness and presentation. Don’t worry, we know—which is why all of that is about to change. This site is our first step in re-conceptualizing and restructuring a publication that the entire community can be proud of.

Other platforms have been created to fill the void that existed in a school without a proper news source. SLCspeaks is an incredible publication that allows students’ stories to be shared in a way that has never before been done at this school. Its creators, managers, and writers have brought this school a sense of community that is invaluable. They redefined our notion of what it means to have a voice here. Let it be clear that we are not SLCspeaks, nor would we ever try to be.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about anything that we present or should be presenting, definitely let us know. At the bottom of each piece, there is space for you to put in your two cents and speak directly to our writers and editors. We implore you to let us, and each other, know what you think.

We want to be as transparent and accessible as possible for you. We want to start more open dialogues with you so that we can become the best we can be. All letters to the editor that we receive will be addressed timely and honestly.

We admit that we have a long way to go before we will be the publication that this campus deserves, but think of this as The Phoenix rising out of the ashes.

Sarah Lawrence is a very opinionated and vocal place, so I knew that as soon as any controversial content was put up on the site community members would respond immediately and passionately. Boy oh boy was I right.

In our previous print issue, we had published a piece written by a first-year student arguing that SLC lacks a sense of community and does not do enough to transition first-years into college. In it, she uses inflammatory language and basically rags on not only the administration but community members in general. She quotes various first-years in the piece, many of whom are her closest friends. I published the piece on the site, not because I thought that it was an important or particularly well-written piece, but because I knew that it would spark controversy. And it did.

Within 5 hours of me tweeting out and Facebook posting the link to the article, it received two essay-style responses in the comments section of the site. Students were enraged that the author called for more community-building organizations and potentially the introduction of Greek Life into Sarah Lawrence culture. Respondents questioned not only her opinion, but also her journalistic integrity in quoting only her closest friends.

A few people came up to me questioning why I published it if it was such a negative piece. To be honest, it was a PR stunt. I wanted to garner some attention of The Phoenix’s website. On the site are dozens of pieces which are absolutely positive—awesome film reviews, news pieces on important events on campus, and profiles of incredibly talented and prolific student artists. Furthermore, the purpose of a news source is to spark conversation, to let a community know what’s going on and open up a dialogue about that. Even if only a few students felt the same way that the author felt, it was still important to get those viewpoints out there and let the community have a chance to discuss them.

Though some people were divided by this piece and the issues raised, many were brought together. In the past few days, I have overheard countless students talking about how they disagree with her and how they love the SLC community. Though her piece was harsh and criticized community, it’s effects served to bolster community feeling and bring people together.

The fact that this topic was able to be discussed on an online forum is so important. Users were able to respond to each and communicate within the SLC network in a way that they haven’t before, separate from typical social media sites. The official public forum gave students a platform to write long, detailed responses that were respectful and intelligent. Had this article simply appeared on Facebook, the types of comments would have been much different and I suspect much less positive and helpful.

Though this is only a start, the community is starting to engage with our publication, and with each other, in new and powerful ways. I’m exciting to see what happens next, and what conversations brew in the comments section of the site.

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