UPDATED: Safe spaces and the media

Ryersonian reporters

Ryersonian reporters David Greenberg and Patricia Karounos have differing opinions about media entering safe spaces. (Kevin John Siazon)

The Ryersonian’s David Greenberg and Patricia Karounos wrote opposing op-eds on whether or not media should be permitted in safe spaces.

David Greenberg:

On Monday, Ryerson University held an open meeting to revise its new sexual violence policy.  Students were given the opportunity to provide feedback and engage in discussions on how to improve the year-old policy. All Ryerson students were invited to attend, except for the media.

I’m not outraged. How could I be? I can’t pretend to understand what it feels like to be a victim of sexual violence and can’t truly understand why media presence might violate the “safe space” of the meeting. But as a member of the media, what I can do—if given the chance—is spread knowledge and find ways to reach students in the community who may not have attended. That can’t happen if we’re not even allowed to show up.

Ryerson acknowledges that engagement with the new policy is an issue. Tamara Jones, the Ryerson Students’ Union vice president equity, told the Ryersonian that the policy’s wording is inaccessible. When it came into effect in June 2015, it specifically promised to focus on awareness and education. Limiting media access to a campus-wide policy makes student-wide awareness less achievable.

The media is not perfect. We’ve made mistakes before and mistakes will happen again. But if we aren’t included in this process, the mistakes will be bigger and more frequent. The media has a responsibility to relay information to those who don’t want to take the time to read a long, official policy, which I reckon is “most” people. This is exactly where the media can help, but when we’re not even given the chance to participate, we can’t do our job.  

That’s why the media and sexual assault survivors must reconcile. There is a need for safe spaces for assault survivors.  Of that there can be no doubt.  But there’s also a need for the press to be able to ask questions and provide information that allows the public to make informed decisions.  One should not have to cancel out the other. Remember: this is a campus-wide policy that affects everyone. There must be ways to accommodate journalists and survivors—spaces where survivors can feel safe and an environment where the media can do its job and report fully on this huge campus and national issue.  

There will always be those who are more informed and more engaged in community issues such as sexual assault policy but there is only so much they can do when most people just don’t know anything.  Without the media being permitted to engage in these issues directly, how can we expect to change an entire culture?

Patricia Karounos:

Last week, the Ryersonian published an article saying not enough students know about Ryerson’s Sexual Violence Policy. We also published an editorial asking students to attend the school’s upcoming consultation meetings as part of the policy’s review. The student-only meetings are open to all Ryerson students who want to engage in conversation, provide feedback, and, hopefully, help improve the policy.

These meetings have been labelled a safe space, which means media are not allowed to report on them.

The problems with prohibiting campus media — the very journalists who are trying to increase awareness of important issues — from attending a policy meeting are not lost on me. Some journalists would call this a denial of our right to a free press.

I am not one of those people.

As journalists, language is our main currency. It’s how we communicate with others we’re judged based on the way we use it. As language evolves, we must evolve with it.

In recent years, this means engaging critically with the term “safe space” and how it fits into journalism. When events are deemed to be in a safe space, it’s to ensure that those with marginalized identities are not silenced or made to feel uncomfortable by those in a position of privilege. In this case, Ryerson’s student-only meetings were classified as  a safe space in the hopes that survivors of sexual violence would come forward with personal experiences that would help shape the policy.

And that was the right move.

We have no place to report on someone’s experiences of sexual violence without their expressed permission. Of course, most reporters at the Ryersonian are well aware of that — the purpose of attending a policy meeting is to report on the policy itself. But if our presence at such meeting would prevent someone from speaking out — which would be understandable, because, historically, the media has not treated survivors particularly well — we are failing at our jobs.

Yes, we have a right to, and must, report on Ryerson’s Sexual Violence Policy and its review. With that said, the Ryersonian has been invited to the faculty consultation meetings, and the offices of Farrah Khan and Heather Lane Vetere are a short walk away. We don’t have to be at these student-only, safe space meetings.

Our definition of “freedom of the press” cannot be black and white; it must evolve, too. If our presence in a safe space prevents someone else from speaking — literally restricting their freedom of speech — we are not conducting good journalism. Not even close.

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