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How The Commonwealth Times covered VCU’s recent protests

Protesters crash with poilce
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
The Commonwealth Times' Andrew Kerley takes pictures of protesters facing off with law enforcement at VCU in Richmond on April 29.

Student journalists in Richmond have been juggling both tasks in the wake of pro-Palestine protests.

Reporters at the Commonwealth Times, Virginia Commonwealth University’s student newspaper, have been covering Pro-palestinian protests on campus. Late last month, they worked as six of their peers were arrested at a protest outside of the Cabell Library during finals week. The Richmond Police Department declared the protest an unlawful assembly and arrested 13 people total.

CT News Editor Jack Glagola and Audience Editor Andrew Kerley recently spoke to VPM News Features Editor Whittney Evans about the coverage. They say students are overwhelmingly angry about the law enforcement response — echoing VPM interviews with students on May 1, a day after the student-led protest calling for an end to the Israel-Hamas war.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Whittney Evans: How hard is it to cover your own school during finals week?

Andrew Kerley: Hard. I've certainly been neglecting academics for the last week.

Jack Glagola: For me, my position is very involved. So I feel like the whole semester, it's just kind of hard, because it's kind of like a full-time job. But especially during finals week, it is tough. Like Andrew said, I've definitely been like, not prioritizing, studying as much as I should.

AK: I will say, though, a lot of professors recognize that what we're doing matters. And they're pretty lenient with giving extensions and things like that.

What have been sort of the rules of engagement for you all, in terms of how the Commonwealth Times covers this?

JG: I'm of Arab descent, so the issue is kind of close to me. My whole life, my family and my peers kind of have a certain position on it. So sometimes it's a bit of a struggle to have to recuse myself and have to say, “OK, I'm not here as me in my background. I'm here as me to tell the story to other people.”

I know, there's some criticism that these protests are inherently antisemitic. Did you happen to see anything like that?

AK: I don't want to speak for Jewish people. So far, just since Oct. 7, I've only heard of one antisemitic incident on campus. And that incident was actually sort of like an infighting situation inside of a Jewish student organization.

But other than that, I have not personally witnessed any acts of antisemitism.

JG: Neither have I.

Protesters crash with poilce
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
The Commonwealth Times' Andrew Kerley can be seen in this photo, reporting from inside the Cabell Library, while law enforcement lined up outside to engage with protesters on campus April 29 in Richmond.

Has your news organization taken any lessons from the protests of 2020? In particular, how you can stay safe and how to properly or how to respectfully cover a protest?

AK: We weren't here when it happened, but we've certainly heard stories. Some previous editors of the Commonwealth Times got hit with chemical agents, detained, all sorts of stuff during 2020.

I think we've certainly been considering how to stay safe. We have these bright orange press fests just to distinguish ourselves.

JG: Our editors have been particularly gracious in just making us aware of the resources that were available to us.

AK: Sometimes no matter how hard you try to distinguish yourself as press like, people just don't care. Some police tried to spray something at me. I think it was pepper spray after I was repeatedly yelling “I'm press, I'm press.”

I want to say though, just from what we've learned from 2020, The CT, I think, got pretty famous over making the decision to blur student's faces, obscure their identities and hide some of their names.

And that's something that we've definitely carried with us now. Just because we're starting to live in a world where people don't want to take everything objectively coming from authority.

Read more Commonwealth Times coverage of the protests at the CT’s website.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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