Community angered by magazine article

Inside the conflict that fractured Lincoln

The+Lincoln+building+from+the+outside.+One+of+Lincoln%27s+student+publications%2C+Beyond+the+Flock%2C+published+a+controversial+article+in+their+Winter+issue+during+February.

Cole Pressler

The Lincoln building from the outside. One of Lincoln's student publications, Beyond the Flock, published a controversial article in their Winter issue during February.

By Cole Pressler, Evan Reynolds, Ella Mashroutechi, and Isabella Lo

Editor’s note

In this article, The Cardinal Times is citing several anonymous sources and not naming three students both out of personal safety concerns stemming from the online harassment that Beyond the Flock staff members have experienced and out of respect for the anonymity of those involved in an ongoing restorative justice process. “The author” in this article refers to the author of the Beyond the Flock piece about Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer. “Editor A” and “Editor B” refer to two members of the Beyond the Flock editorial staff who had roles in the editing and publication process. 

Shock. Anger. Fear. Guilt.

These were just a handful of students’ reactions to an article in the Feb. 7 issue of Lincoln’s student-run magazine, Beyond the Flock. Since its publication, the Lincoln community has been forced to grapple with a number of issues– including the roles and responsibilities of student-run journalism.

The article in question focused on the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, two radical right-wing groups that have staged numerous violent protests in the Portland area. Students and faculty members criticized the piece for a number of factual inaccuracies and omissions. Shortly after the issue’s release, Lincoln staff members moderated an emotional lunchtime discussion between students concerned about the piece and members of the Beyond the Flock staff, which later garnered additional criticism. The meeting, which students, teachers and an administrator attended, ended in disruption, with a student yelling in protest as others exited the room.

Shortly after the meeting, Lincoln administrators, concerned about how the article’s impact and the discourse surrounding it remained unresolved, contacted the school district to help administer restorative justice to the parties involved.

“We have reached out to PPS and the restorative justice coordinator, Charnetta Hutson,” says Lincoln principal Peyton Chapman, “and have now connected her with people we have identified as either having information or having been harmed by the incident.”

This process entails Hutson talking to individuals about the harm they have felt, before coming together and talking to each other as a group.

The controversy 

The article about Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer was part of a three-piece section called “PDX Politics” focusing on the self-proclaimed ideologies of several radical political organizations in the Portland area, including the left-wing Antifa movement and the anarchist Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front (PYLF). According to Beyond the Flock advisor Emily Hensley, the articles were intended to inform students about the ideologies these groups claim they stand for. 

“Hensley came up with the article … to go along with our articles about Antifa and the PYLF [that students pitched]. So she asked [the author] if she would like to write it, and [the author] eventually agreed to it,” says Editor A. “[Hensley] wanted us to have a ‘different side’ of the perspective since Antifa and PYLF are generally considered to be left-wing.”

To be able to argue that there is a ‘good’ side to [these groups] is ignoring and devaluing the lives of every oppressed group in this country.”

— Bing Swigart

Though the “PDX Politics” section as a whole received accusations of bias, the article in question was singled out for its failure to provide crucial context. The article’s only sources were information from the Proud Boys’ website and a phone interview with Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer. It excluded the Proud Boys’ designation as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center and omitted that Gibson has been charged with the public beating of a woman in Portland.

“I thought [the Proud Boys article] was basically an ad for the white supremacist groups,” says senior Liem MacKenzie, a Critical Race Studies 3-4 student. “It was shining this positive light on a very negative and controversial group that says one thing and kind of does another, basically.”

Two student editors gave constructive feedback to the article– Editors A and B say that they edited the article carefully during class on a Google Doc, as was typical for them. The author says that was the only feedback she received on the piece.

“[The article] went through the editors. I gave it to them… I received it back, they were like ‘change this,’ I changed a few wording things, and that was it. I never received an edit from Ms. Hensley or anyone else from the class. It was literally the one,” says the author.

Hensley’s rationale for not editing the piece or giving content-related feedback was that it is “illegal for student journalist advisers to attempt or be seen as attempting to censor or change content in Oregon.

“I try to be really hands-off in terms of shaping the articles for students,” says Hensley. “I try to help with the brainstorming process … and I will give content feedback if students ask for it, and want it, but I don’t ever want to push myself onto my writers.”

Some editors had concerns about the piece’s content during the writing process.

“When I initially read it I was like, there needs to be some mention of the really harmful aspects about the two groups. And I commented that on the [document],” says Editor B. “That was something that really fell through on all of our parts when we were editing later… it was honestly ignorance and a lack of follow-through. It just didn’t happen.”

Some students were shocked by the article’s content.

“The article ignored the lived experiences of people of color and ignored the fear the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer creates,” says junior Bing Swigart, a Critical Race student who identifies as brown. “To be able to argue that there is a ‘good’ side to [these groups] is ignoring and devaluing the lives of every oppressed group in this country.”

The backlash

Though the issue went to print in mid-January, a number of delays with the printer meant that Beyond the Flock staff didn’t receive it for distribution until Feb. 7, the Friday of Black Lives Matter’s School Week of Action. That week, Critical Race Studies 3-4 students organized a number of presentations and activities to raise the awareness of the student body and staff regarding the movement, including the life and killing of Trayvon Martin, as well as the acknowledgment of racial profiling and the uplifting of voices of people of color.

For some students, especially students of color, the timing of the article’s publication during the Week of Action amplified what was already a triggering experience.

“This topic and these things aren’t new,” says senior Layla McGaha, who identifies as a woman of color. “It’s another form of racism and oppression against our minorities… there were a lot of questions on ‘why this topic’ for BLM Week of Action.”

To be frank, I don’t think any [further] apology would be fully accepted… There was a lot of damage, and there’s no more going back.”

— Layla McGaha

Meanwhile, the author of the article began receiving backlash shortly after the magazine was distributed at school, including harassment by other students over social media. Other online comments called out Beyond the Flock as a whole for letting the article go to print.

Although there had been some concern over the content of the article during production, Beyond the Flock staffers didn’t expect much of a reaction when they distributed the issue. 

“The magazine, in general, hasn’t had a lot of attention from the student body, so we thought of it as just another article we were going to produce,” says Editor A.

Instead, students’ responses to the article escalated. Eventually, some discussions led by teachers took place in classrooms where few students had read the magazine, or even the article, for context.

“I have been pretty surprised to see how many discussions have happened where no one’s read any of the three articles,” says Chapman.

As the anger surrounding the article intensified, the Beyond the Flock staff began to discuss what steps could be taken. While most of the staff agreed that a discussion and/or listening session was a good idea, some were left blindsided by the planning process, which occurred later that week.

“I think a majority of our staff was like, ‘we’re Beyond the Flock, we support student voice,’” says Editor B. “So initially we were eager to have that discussion. But after that, it was incredibly rushed… there was a [Lincoln] staff meeting later that day where several teachers planned and discussed the norms, who would moderate it, when it would be… [the discussion] was almost entirely planned by Lincoln faculty… almost with no student consultation.”

Several teachers involved in the discussion and its planning declined to be interviewed for this article.

The discussion was held in the publications classroom during a thirty-five minute lunch period on Wednesday, Feb. 12. Some Beyond the Flock staffers, including Editor B, were absent on a field trip, while many of the remaining staffers formed a panel. Ground rules were set by the moderator, social studies teacher Melinda Gale. Hensley started by apologizing for her role in the production process, and the panel of Beyond the Flock staffers apologized, addressing their mistakes in the editing process, and explaining the printing problems which pushed distribution from January to February.

The conversation in the classroom became crowded with many students eager to voice their opinions and concerns with the article. Other teachers, primarily from the social studies and English departments, were also present during the discussion, as was Principal Chapman.

“[I was] deeply moved by the number of students who responded authentically by describing the impact of the article, conveying their concerns, and to the editorial board themselves for owning that impact, accepting responsibility and envisioning a better process to guide their publication norms,” says Gale.

However, students criticized the discussion for several reasons. For one, students who came to share their concerns were only allowed one minute to voice their critiques, while the magazine staff talked for an extended period of time in the beginning.

“We weren’t aware that students would be timed… As it happened, we realized the timer was going to start cutting people off and that we weren’t being held to that timer when we started talking,” says Editor A. “I wanted to tell someone to turn off the timer, but it was an adult faculty member and I didn’t feel comfortable interfering with the moderator.”

Some students felt that the staffers’ responses didn’t address the impacts of the article.

“For me, it doesn’t really matter if their intent was good, because the impact means a lot more,” says Swigart. “The thing that frustrated me the most was how the staff ‘apologized’ by saying ‘I’m sorry you guys felt this way, but…’. I wanted the meeting to recognize the harm created by the article, but that didn’t happen.”

Others were unhappy that the magazine responded at all.

“One really big thing for me was when Ms. Hensley kept on asking the [panel] to respond to what the people were saying and I was kind of like ‘what are you doing? Let the people talk, don’t give the voice to the people who have been talking’… they weren’t listening to understand, they were listening to respond,” says MacKenzie.

“The students and the staff and myself felt pressure to address the article as quickly as possible… we could have used [more] time to make sure that it was really done well; but, then, if that happened… people would have felt like ‘why is the magazine staying silent on this and not doing anything?’” says Hensley. “[Looking back,] I don’t know that in terms of the bulk of the meeting I would have done anything differently.”

Chapman believes that the restorative justice process is gradual and that a rushed discussion might not have been the best solution.

“Some of these issues that have been raised– you can’t fix quickly. They take courageous conversations, strong facilitation, safe spaces and time,” says Chapman, who did not have a direct role in the planning of the discussion. “I don’t think a quick lunchtime meeting with 75 students and teachers was safe and just. As principal, I wish that I had used my own learning and said ‘we need to figure out a better structure, even if it takes more time because we need to reduce the harm, not add to it.’”

Members of the magazine later expressed remorse for the structure and outcome of the conversation.

“People didn’t feel heard… not having the time to do that made them more angry at [Beyond the Flock] because we’re not letting them speak, we’re not listening to them, we’re only putting on this thing as some sort of a facade to cover up the mistakes that we made,” says sophomore and Beyond the Flock staff member Kyler Wang.

As the bell rang and students exited the room, Hensley approached a student and asked her a question about the discussion, leading to the student yelling at a Beyond the Flock editor and Hensley, saying that Beyond the Flock inadequately represented the voices of people of color during the discussion. Jessica Mallare-Best, the Critical Race Studies teacher, addressed the conflict in an attempt to talk to the upset student. Afterward, the student in question and members of the panel left the room separately.

“After the whole discussion I was just really angry,” says MacKenzie. “The white administrators and teachers were comforting the white students that wrote the article; it was basically them… excusing their behavior. And then the students of color were really helped by Ms. Best.”

“To be frank, I don’t think any [further] apology would be fully accepted,” says McGaha. There was a lot of damage, and there’s no more going back.”

Healing

When you see something so clearly and other people haven’t even been taught to see it, there’s going to be conflict.”

— Peyton Chapman

The aftermath of the moderated discussion caused many students to examine the effects of Lincoln’s whiteness more closely, with some believing that it’s propagated a culture of insensitivity to issues that affect students of color.

“I definitely didn’t think our white majority would be so adamant about [the article]; I was not expecting that,” says McGaha. “I felt like there were a lot of people going against it because everyone else was, not because they genuinely cared about other minorities in this school… The discussion overall made me feel like I was not listened to. And I was disappointed with it.”

Some students are already indicating what they expect the Lincoln community and Beyond the Flock to do in the future to address what has happened.

“The lack of accountability that Lincoln staff, administration and students have taken shows a lot about our school. It is very obvious to me that these racially motivated incidents will continue to happen because the school does not want to acknowledge the hostile environment that students of color face every time they walk into this building,” says Swigart. “I am tired of having to hold white people accountable for their actions… white people, hold white people accountable.”

To Swigart, that looks like recognition of past mistakes. 

“Again, the impact is much greater than the intent, so recognizing that impact without trying to justify it is taking accountability. Our collective memory is short at Lincoln, so to not immediately recognize the harm shows to me that they are waiting for everyone to forget. When issues like the article occur, it’s really important to understand why it’s harmful and learn from that. But to continue to gloss over incidents like these means that oppressed people continue to have to suffer.”

Other students suggested more representation of students of color in Lincoln’s publications. The editors and staff members of Beyond the Flock who issued a statement during the discussion were predominantly white students.

“I would like to see more diversity in the magazine… maybe some more diverse [editors]… Also, I would like some accountability from the teacher because I know it wasn’t all on [the author],” suggests MacKenzie.

Members of Beyond the Flock acknowledge how much this incident has taught them.

“We genuinely just didn’t catch [the errors] because we didn’t have the same perspective that a lot of students saw,” says Editor B. “That’s our responsibility, to make sure we’re educating ourselves on those different perspectives that we lacked to begin with. And that’s what we’re going to be doing moving forward, is going to different students that have those different perspectives.”

Chapman believes that accountability consists of both teaching and learning.

“Part of the [reason] these issues are happening is because we need to educate all of our students around at least the basis of Critical Race Studies, and at least the basis of our expectations on using multiple lenses and critical thinking skills,” she says. “When you see something so clearly and other people haven’t even been taught to see it, there’s going to be conflict.”

Beyond the Flock is working to revise the three PDX Politics articles on their website in order to repair the journalistic integrity of the pieces. They also plan to release a formal apology in the coming days. Additionally, they have plans to restructure their next issue to elevate Lincoln’s marginalized communities and address concerns raised by the publication of the article and the discussion that followed.

“Listening to understand and speaking our truths responsibly are norms that are easy to agree to but arduous to live up to, particularly in a culture that does not mirror or appear to value the hard work required to sustain the growth of racial equity. In that regard, we failed each other,” says Gale. “I do not believe we will dismantle systems of oppression and create ones that reflect social justice until we can both value and communicate effectively with one another.”

Disclosures: Ella Mashroutechi is a Critical Race Studies 1-2 student. All of this article’s writers were present at the discussion in question and Evan Reynolds spoke briefly about his concerns with the Beyond the Flock piece.

This story was originally published on The Cardinal Times on March 6, 2020.