HSJ Headline News
Here's what happens to a censored teenager
Knoxville News Sentinel
February 27, 2012
In my Sunday column, I wondered what became of teens who found themselves embroiled in censorship disputes at their high schools, such as the one involving Krystal Myers of Lenoir City. Elizabeth Sauchelli, a senior journalism major at State University of New York in Oswego, read the piece online and answered the question:
"I went to a high school in New Jersey where I served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper my senior year. During my junior year of high school, an issue of the newspaper was pulled because the administration did not agree with a column one of our writer's wrote that disagreed with the technology department's censorship of certain webpages. After that, all of the articles we published had to be pre-approved by the principal. When I became editor-in-chief my senior year, the principal rejected half of our articles for our first issue and refused to let us publish them. (The articles were mainly written about 'Weird NJ' sites in our county. The administration was worried that they encouraged trespassing, satanic worship and other delinquent behavior.)
"I don't know what Krystal Myer's first reaction was to her censorship, but I remember mine quite well. I was 17 and torn apart by it. The newspaper staff was angry and upset. Our teacher, not tenured at the time, could not really do anything to help us. I had never really questioned 'authority' until then: I always thought that people, particularly in my school, always did what was right. I loved my high school newspaper more than anything and I was angry that an outside source had threatened it.
"I went to speak to the vice principal to get the decision reversed and when he refused, I left his office in tears. At the time, I had a lot of trouble conceiving how someone could make a decision that, in my mind, was so black and white. They were wrong, they knew they were wrong and yet they were still making a wrong decision. After that, I got in touch with a lawyer at the Student Press Law Center and they gave me information to help me fight the school's decision. The next time I went to meet with the administration, I didn't cry, but presented my arguments clearly and told them what I was prepared to do if they did not reverse their decision. I won the fight. (We were still required to meet with the administration to discuss our content, but they did not chance pulling articles again.)
"You are right in your column when you call being censored 'among the most formative experiences of their high school careers.' It was easily the most formative in mine. I surprised myself when I fought the censorship. I had never really stood up for anything I believed in before and often let big decisions be made for me (including, at the time, the pressure my family was putting on me to pursue political science/law in college instead of journalism). More than anything though, it taught me that I was capable of fighting for something I believed in, no matter what the costs. I honestly believe that I would not be as passionate about journalism as I am today if I did not have to meet that challenge so early on. (There were, unfortunately, some of my fellow staff members that believed there was too much working against them to be journalists and gave it up completely.)
"I wish I could tell Krystal Myers that, yes, this fight has the potential to change your life. It certainly changed mine. But don't let it discourage you, let it anger you enough to do something about it. Since leaving high school I have faced other challenges at my college newspaper and in my internships. But then I'll occasionally remind myself of what I accomplished as a scared 17-year-old in high school and I'm able to work my way through them. I hope Krystal Myers takes what happened to her and uses it as an incentive to go for what she believes in."