In response to Senate’s open letter
Submitted on October 14, 2020
Letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Quest or the Editorial Board.
Students of color deserve a publication dedicated specifically to the works that they create, and they deserve for that publication to be more than a political ploy to disenfranchise the only news specific publication that currently exists on campus. This conversation has been going on for years, during the last four semesters of which I was the Student Body President and the Senate Liaison to Student Publications. Most recently, in spring 2018, the conversation between Senate and Receipts about defunding the Quest broke down because Receipts stopped, yet another result of how this institution constantly and consistently fails its students of color. These institutional problems will not go away by making student publications, which serve distinct, necessary purposes, go through an arbitrary, subjective process in order to validate their continued existence.
In the current administrative climate, the hard work of enfranchising a student of color publication needs dedicated students willing to be constantly underpaid, or members of Senate being willing to redirect their own wage towards that project. The kind of student of color publication that both Receipts and Loose Change envisioned requires more funds than the Quest takes to run if you want it to last longer than its founding members are enrolled as students. The problem with the Quest is not that it is institutionally supported, but that there is not a student of color publication which receives similar institutional support. So the solution of defunding the Quest misdiagnoses the problem. The present defunding of the Quest is unprecedented and will serve mostly as a case study, as there is now little to be done. If Senate would like to unilaterally decide without any student input to defund the Quest — which, I posit they have done here, as no forum for public interest in this matter was held — they may do so, despite the fact that the Quest is enshrined in Senate’s bylaw. It is worth noting that electing Quest editors is the way students have to check Senate’s processes, and their defunding of it puts student’s ability to check Senate’s power into serious question.
As a Black student who no longer holds elected office, I really want a publication specifically by and for BIPOC at Reed, and I really want it to have the same name semester after semester. I want a place that feels like a community on campus; I want something like The Grail but specifically for students of color. A publication that exists for enough years for it to connect current students with alumni, a community beyond my four years here. I don’t think Senate’s present proposal can promise this. Based on the plan laid out in their open letter, the student body would have to vote on a student of color publication in Top 40/30, which is a system so problematic that it has been avoided for other identity based groups through identity (ID) funding. Any sort of continuity which a student of color publication could hope for is put in jeopardy by putting all student publications in Top 40. There is additionally no system in place to assume that any given Senate has even a basic level of cultural competence, so their potential ability to cut a publication for students that serves a group they are not in without any public input in the process—which occurs during Funding Hell—is greatly distressing. In other words, although this Senate may prioritize a student of color publication, another Senate could just as easily defund Loose Change or a similar publication, especially if that publication must go through Top 40 to receive its printing budget. This particular Senate’s culture, in which almost every noteworthy vote is held in executive session instead of the public meeting, makes this even more worrying.
It makes reasonable sense to appoint a committee of students of color, with no obligation of confidentiality, to review the budgets of publications and ID funding as a whole. This ensures that the people responsible for cutting budgets are accountable to provide an explanation for how the funding was considered. A concern for transparency should start with having the student body vote on Appointments and Student Opportunities Subsidies chairs, as choosing that level of position internally creates a culture where promotion requires senators to be more accountable to each other than they are to the student body. This is not a new problem, but the drastic action of this Senate regarding student publications makes possible solutions much more necessary, particularly those that place things out of the bounds of Senate confidentiality. Ultimately, Funding Circus is an entirely arbitrary process with no codified rules, code, or consistent expectations around how funds shall be distributed; the executive team in consultation with Treasury are the sole power charged with setting forth the funding rules within only the vague structure set forth in the bylaws.
Given my experience as a senator and specifically the student publications liaison, I know that there is literally zero transparency about how budgets are cut down after a club places in Top 40. This is a process which both ID groups and publications like The Grail go through, but subjecting a student of color publication to a process in which there is no guarantee that any students of color have the power to make decisions about its funding seems like a dramatic oversight reasonably left in the first draft of a plan, not one presented to the public. ID funding is also an increasingly small pool of guaranteed funds given the number of organizations that qualify for it. Regardless of the number of organizations, the amount guaranteed specifically to ID groups remains the same size. Wages have, in the past, proved difficult because they involve a level of oversight that Receipts editors found stifling. Past Senates have ensured that every student receiving a wage through student body funds is either elected or appointed; both options proved problematic for the realities of running a creative publication. Wages are an invaluable resource to make institutional power more accessible to low-SES students, which is why reviewing not only the amount — which it seems the new wage review (WRB) board will accomplish — but what standard it takes to be paid a wages seems a valuable exercise for Senate or WRB to undertake.
As a final and significant note, Senate’s open letter addresses equity and equality as the same point, which is unsurprising coming from administrators, but disheartening coming from fellow students of color and not surprising given the wealth of the average student at Reed. Senate seems to be asking for publications to be treated with equality, which, given the nature of the current attacks on the news media, is particularly silly. A news publication and a creative student of color publication need different things; they need to be treated with equity, given the resources that each of them specifically requires. Journalism and identity are both under assault in very different ways, which is why equity towards each publication is so important. We need a reformed Quest, or some news-specific, weekly publication to accurately and harshly critique Senates like this one that wish to push through sweeping changes to the nature of our community with little input. We also need a space where students of color can develop a community in which to exist and create together for either the community at large or their own community. Blackness is painfully and disappointingly missing from this conversation, as is any distinction within the ridiculously homogenizing idea of “students of color.” Each of our communities is different, and while we share some experiences, to compress us all together necessarily flattens the diversity represented therein.
Defunding and stripping wages from a publication suddenly is uninteresting, but it is something you technically can do quickly. To establish something quickly means it can be undone more quickly, and as students of color living in an institution steeped in white supremacy, we are particularly aware of this reality. This place was not made for us. Our burden, to make something durable and beautiful for ourselves, is too high, and that is not a Senate, Quest, Grail, Receipts, or Loose Change problem; it is a problem with the nature of this capitalist system. Senate has unfortunately used the nature of that system to disadvantage their fellow students’ ability to be heard. If they could do it to the Quest in a semester, they could do it to any subsequent publication at the drop of their fedora.
Love from the other side,
thanks pax for this thoughtful and nuanced perspective on the issue