Dr. McConnell-Black to Review Emails Despite Concerns of Censorship
On March 10, the Reed community received their first SB Info email from new Student Body President Aziz Ouedraogo. The email, its subject line reading “SB Info is Black Again,” candidly discussed the difficult position Ouedraogo and Student Body Vice President Alondra Loza found themselves in with their unexpected new jobs. The email invited the student body to attend senate meetings addressing CSO misconduct and ended with a line that would prove to cause a lot of trouble for the president: “Depending on how I feel, if you’re not Black, I may charge you an unspecified rate for SB Info submissions.” In an interview with the Quest, Ouedraogo said of the comment, “It was definitely a joke.”
Two days later, another email was released to the student body, this one titled “SB Info Follow Up,” sent by the Vice President for Student Life Karnell McConnell-Black and Dean of Institutional Diversity Mary James. This email condemned the words of Ouedraogo, stating that charging non-black students was “entirely antithetical to Reed’s values.” McConnell-Black and other administrators met with Ouedraogo and Loza to inform them that SB Info will now be moderated by administration.
Reading both of these communications in short succession may have been confusing for many students who missed the first SB Info’s comments or did not find them to be worth the strong condemnation they received. Some students were concerned by a vague statement in the follow-up about aligning SB Info with Reed’s mass email guidelines. Even those who understood the context of both emails wondered what exactly had gone down in the last two days and got the feeling that they were witnessing a small part of a much larger story.
Speaking with the Quest, Ouedraogo gave some insight into her intent writing the email and how she wanted to be honest with the student body in her email. She noted that transitioning from Senator to an executive position was difficult: “I got to be much more mouthy and opinionated as a senator. And now I have to, like, put on a good face.”
In the SB Info, Ouedraogo acknowledged that the student body had not voted her in and that, although she didn’t want the job, she would try and do her best. Next, Ouedraogo tried to speak to concerns surrounding CSOs, inviting students to an upcoming Public Senate meeting specifically on the topic of CSO grievances. Ouedraogo later said, of the last paragraph, that it “is the one that’s the one that everybody zoned in on.” While reflecting on the email, Ouedraogo pondered that “no one really acknowledged the first paragraph. Like, hmm, maybe this SB Info sucks ass because Student Government is kind of falling apart. Right?” Reactions to Ouedraogo’s joke about non-Black students paying for SB Info submissions was certainly what attracted the most attention.
This prompted an email from McConnell-Black and James, condemning Ouedraogo’s statements. In a subsequent SB Info, it was mentioned that there was a meeting between Ouedraogo and the administration concerning the events of the meeting. When asked by the Quest, Ouedraogo said that, during the meeting, administrators “were upset that they looked bad to parents.” Ouedraogo characterized the conversation as “reminiscent of being sent to the principal’s office.” Ouedraogo continued, “That was the least robotic that I have ever seen Audrey when she was basically… scolding me.”
She explained that “It became very clear to me … that [administrators] didn’t really give a shit about what students had to say. She emphasized that “they were upset that they looked bad to parents.”
In the meeting, administrators brought forth concerns about a potential lawsuit and Ouedraogo asked them to specify which parties might be involved. She characterized the administrators’ responses as being evasive, but she felt the sentiment from administration was, “We don’t give a shit if you go to court, we care about you taking the college’s name into court.”
Ouedraogo gave some details into Reed administration’s decision to censor SB Info. “It was Audrey and [Karnell]… that decided that SB Info needed to be censored.” Ouedraogo explained that Bilger and McConnell-Black stressed that SB Info is the only unmoderated mass communications email list on campus and that they thought it should be moderated. Ouedraogo was seriously concerned about how the proposition would affect student autonomy, saying that a moderated SB Info “is a punishment for the entire student body and all of Senate based on something that I did alone.” For the length of the meeting, Ouedraogo and Loza repeatedly asked McConnell-Black not to moderate SB Info, refusing to budge on the question of censorship.
Ouedraogo continued, “We came up with a lot of alternative solutions, like an internal senate review of SB info, which I’m totally fine with.” Ouedraogo said that, after over an hour of discussion, McConnell-Black told her that the administration had already decided to moderate SB Info. Ouedraogo went on to say, “I called them out, because… that means he… expected us to buckle, agree to moderation, and then make it seem like it was our idea.” Ouedraogo also disagreed with the way that McConnell-Black characterized their meeting in his follow up email. “Whether [he] intended to or not, that was deceitful… If you read the… email that he sent, it makes it sound like we consented to moderation.”
McConnell-Black responded in an email correspondence with the Quest that “The meeting referenced in the response alluded to the regular meeting that the student body president and vice president have with President Audrey Bilger, and Dean of the Faculty Kathy Oleson. I was invited to attend to participate in the transition of the new roles for the Student Senate. The timing was opportune to bring up the concerns that I had received from the campus community.”
McConnell-Black continued, “From my perspective, the conversation provided an opportunity for me to understand the circumstances that led to the email and to have an authentic dialogue about how the email impacted the campus community. In addition, it also provided an opportunity to engage in conversation related to leadership development and the support of engaging in meaningful conversation about the responsibility that the student body has placed in them to be their advocates and voice concerns on their behalf.”
When asked about his thoughts on the decisions reached in the meeting, he said “The conversation opened up more dialogue regarding how we can support the Student Senate and also the ways in which we can partner with them to develop a sustainable process that also builds trust with the campus community.”
On his role in censoring SB Info, McConnell-Black said “I will be moderating the SB Info list-serv. Moderating the list-serv entails either releasing or not releasing an email sent to the SB Info list-serv. There is not an option to edit the emails sent to the SB Info list-serv. I will not be editing MCs or any emails that are sent to the SB Info list-serv.”
When asked about Ouedraogo’s claim that McConnell-Black’s email mischaracterized the Student Body President’s consent to the new policy change surrounding SB Info, McConnell-Black answered, “When we finished our meeting, I agreed to work with the Student Senate on developing a protocol in connection with the updates they are wanting to make with their bylaws to make sure there are checks and balances in place. In addition to providing a strong transition protocol so that there is continuity from student senate administration to student senate administration.”
Mary James did not respond to emails asking to comment on her involvement in the response email.
Moderation wasn’t Ouedraogo’s only concern, however. It was brought to her attention that SB Info is sent to some faculty, staff, and administration, and she said “I [don’t] know how comfortable I am with that, especially because that doesn’t seem like it’s known by the student body, especially given the nature of missed connections.”
Ouedraogo spoke more about administration’s characterization of her comments. “They chewed my ass for a long time about it being a bias incident… And I was kind of like, ‘Supporting Black people? Like, supporting Black people is a very serious bias incident?’” Ouedraogo pontificated on the verbiage and message of Reed administration’s email in response to her SB Info, “At the end of the day, I was calling to support Black people. So I did get Reed College to openly admit that supporting Black people is antithetical to their mission”
Ouedraogo also pointed to a part of the email where Reed described their commitment to antiracism, and she felt that “in essence, they’re saying my actions were racist, not a bias incident.” Ouedraogo was dismayed at Reed’s response. “Publicly announcing the scolding of the Black, trans, female student body president, put that in the hall of anti racist work… It’s really sad that that’s not surprising.”
Ouedraogo also commented on how this incident laid bare that the student body presidency is not a position with very much power. “Clearly, like, I don’t hold power over you. As a student, all you as a student have to do is go complain to your full tuition paying mom, and then actually they have power over me. I’m the one getting scolded.”
While parents’ cries of reverse racism were the only ones mentioned by administration, Ouedraogo said that there were some student complaints about her email. Ouedraogo said that the complaints she got were mostly concerning her disparaging comments towards missed connections. Students also complained about the idea of withholding access to SB Info, saying “It was not like, ‘I can’t believe she’s charging non-Black students,’ it was simply ‘I can’t believe she’s charging for SB Info submissions.’” She also heard students complaining about irregular scheduling of SB Info. “Whether I like it or not, I am in a position where it is my duty to pass out information.” Ouedraogo felt that these were valid concerns regarding her email, and understood why some students were upset by her SB Info.
Most of the last paragraph in the email, however, was about Ouedraogo’s lack of time for SB Info. She was trying to express that she wasn’t expecting to be in this position and doesn’t have the time most presidents would have to commit to the role. “My intention with the last paragraph was to be honest [with] where we’re at with student government because, like I said, I did not want to be president… My advisor is straight up like ‘you’re not going to graduate because of your investment in Senate.’” Now, senators are taking turns compiling SB Info before it is reviewed and shared by McConnell-Black.
Some quotes edited for clarity.
“It was definitely a joke.” Sounds like one of Trump’s press aides walking back one of the former President’s authoritarian proclamations.
This comparison seems weird, a bit irrelevant, and a little unintentionally offensive comparison. If the tax-idea were a joke it probably should’ve been more explicit, sure. (In my view there are low SES white Reedies too, so if hypothetically there were to be a tax for SB Info it ought of in my opinion taxed rich, white Reedies and not simply white Reedies, yes?) But the comparison to Trump’s press aides / autocratic press practices seems unhelpful and uncalled for..
I didn’t really think the incident was all that big of a deal. I do agree with the choice by admin. to clarify that it was a joke that perhaps should have been made more explicit. However, having the administration (i.e. McConnell-Black) review and perhaps even censor SB Info seems like a gross overstepping of authority. SB Info is supposed to be a STUDENT-BODY publication, BY-students-FOR-students. To my knowledge SB Info is not sent out to professors and most faculty (if any?). SB Info is deliberately a student-space where students can put forward events, meetings, MCs, etc., including criticisms of Reed and its authority. Actions like this may lead to criticism being censored in the future, or to stripping away Student Senate power, making it a puff position that helps plan events but doesn’t really shape Reed or have sway. I disagree entirely with this solution, which is seems Senate evidently did not consent to, and would encourage the administration to proactively search for another solution, like maybe leaving SB Info as it was before (which worked fine!) instead of completely overreacting like this and demanding to review / manage SB Info.
Sokay, I was thinking about it and re-read the article another time. My final thoughts: I’m actually not even sure if it was necessary for admin. to send that email. Additionally, I’d like to highlight I feel pretty disappointed in how students & admin. treated Aziz about this, and I hope she’s doing alright.