Editorial Series: Sherwood puts activism before journalism

Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series of editorials written by the Spartan editors explaining our reasoning and reactions following the racist email story and choosing not to name the sender.

Aris Sherwood speaking to a reporter at the Rutland BLM protest in June that she organized. Phot credit Hannah Dicton

When the Spartan editors were writing the story about reactions to the racist email sent by one student to another, we spent a lot – a lot – of time discussing whether we should put the name of the sender of the email in the story.

It was right at our fingertips. All it would take was just a simple send button.

But something in me told me it wasn’t right.

The email, among profanity and insults, suggested if white people had picked their own cotton, we wouldn’t be dealing with the Black Lives Matter movement, and was sent after Castleton University announced it would be raising a BLM flag.

I am a journalist. I love being a journalist, and I’m kind of good at it. Being a journalist is tricky. You can’t show your bias for political groups or other groups so you can be trusted as a reporter. In this political climate, it’s hard to not voice your own opinions, but I understand.

But, I am also an activist. Using my white privilege is in fact my greatest privilege. Speaking up for and standing together with marginalized communities is something I care deeply for.

I want to be an activist before I am a journalist.

The original email that was sent was disgusting, racist, and the writer deserves the harshest consequence he can receive. I am not shy about calling out racism when it’s happening. But this was different. This was violent, this was pure hate. There were threats written between each of the lines in the email.

To me, this email and its content represents a whole community of people who believe the same thing, people are really that racist.

This email was undoubtedly a voice for many people at our school, one of them just happened to write an email about it.

That is why I wanted to prioritize safety over exposing a name.

The safety of black students and other students of color means so much more to me than being the newspaper that exposes the name. If we released the name, we don’t know what would’ve happened to the black student who received the email, or other black students, if others like the email-writer now have a reason to be outwardly racist.

Obviously, I know this email with the student’s name was shared on social media. I shared it myself. But an official news outlet is so much different than a social media account; we are looked at for actual news rather than thoughts and opinions.

This student obviously comes from a place where racism is okay and normal. Sure, they can blame us for putting the name out there, but at the end of the day, the student that received the email, and ultimately shared it, was black.

And racist people will always be racist.

My goal for the story was to share how the school was handling a racial and hateful incident and how we’re going to prevent it further. I talked to many people, people I trust and whose opinions I value, and struggled to find a reason to publish the name other than to start a dumpster fire.

I want more than anything for the black students at our school to be safe. Please understand that this was a way of doing so.

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