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Lawmakers Discuss Censorship of Student Journalists Amid VCU Newspaper Censorship Claims

Photo of The Commonwealth Times cover
Witnesses say members of the SGA removed copies of the student-run newspaper from kiosks on campus on the day of publication. (Photo: Alan Rodriguez Espinoza/VPM)

*VPM Intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza reported this story

As Virginia lawmakers are fighting to expand protections for student journalists, Virginia Commonwealth University’s student-run newspaper is facing a fight of its own.

VCU Police are investigating the theft of copies of The Commonwealth Times. Newspapers were removed across campus the same day the student-run paper published a story about harassment within VCU’s Student Government Association.

Hannah Eason, news editor at The Commonwealth Times, wrote the story. She says people saw SGA members removing the papers from campus kiosks, describing the incident as “heartbreaking.”

“I have writers that put in a lot of work into the articles they wrote. We have designers that wrote hours and hours to make it look good,” Eason said. “It was a good issue of ours and the fact that all of that is in the trash because of one article that I wrote, that makes me feel terrible.”

The incident came up during a meeting of the Senate Education and Health Committee on Thursday morning as lawmakers discussed a bill by Del. Chris Hurst (D-Roanoke) that would protect student journalists from censorship.

After listening to remarks by Hurst, Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) recommended expanding the bill to also protect student journalists from censorship committed by non-administrative entities such as other student organizations.

The committee approved the bill, with amendments, and it will soon be considered by the rest of the Virginia Senate. Hurst says he’s been pushing to pass this legislation since he joined the House in 2018. The protections for the press, Hurst adds, are needed “now more than ever.”

“When these journalists in college are studying to become reporters and editors, and journalists professionally, we need to do everything we can to make sure that they are free from censorship so that they are able to learn and develop their craft free from harm,” Hurst said.

VCU’s SGA declined to comment for this story. 

For student journalists, like Eason, the incident is a reminder of obstacles reporters face to do their jobs. 

“At the end of the day, this is censorship,” Eason said. “I know everybody looks at us as kids -- we’re a college newspaper, this is a college student government, we’re all students -- but this happens in real life too. I think this is reminding everyone that we’re the future journalists and we’re the future leaders.”

In a statement, the VCU Office of Student Affairs said the university stands by its independent journalists and does not condone censorship in any form.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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