Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Red Pen - an Underground High School Paper that covered GLBTQ issues after they were censored by the school, wins Courage in Student Journalism Award

“We would like to express our sincerest thanks to our Principal and assistant principals,” Elsie Blake, the editor of her school’s newspaper The Crier, said in a brief address. “Their continual suppression of our writings about issues such as gay rights, sexual misconduct, and bullying have taught us what journalism will be like in the real world, thus preparing us for what is to come.”  - from an article on page three of The Red Pen, an underground high school student newspaper

This story is awesome!

The annual Courage in Student Journalism Award was given to students of duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Ky. and to James Yoakley, former yearbook and newspaper advisor at Lenoir City High School in Tennessee, for their valor in overcoming administrative censorship.
The Kentucky students formed The Red Pen newspaper after facing continuous restrictions from their principal and administration against publishing controversial stories in the school-sanctioned publication, including stories about atheism and LGBT people. Similarly, Yoakley was reassigned to teach 7th grade English after defending a student for publishing an article about his personal experience of coming out as gay.
More about the award going to the students (from the Student Press Law Center):

The Red Pen was the brainstorm of student staffers at duPont Manual’s official student publication, The Redeye, who became frustrated with edicts from their principal to refrain from mentioning topics that might cause controversy, including homosexuality. The students even were forbidden from publishing a news story about the arrest and firing of a teacher whose removal was already well-publicized in the local media.
The students – Zoe Schaver, Patrick Hartel, Emily McConville, Kelsey McKim, Dakota Sherek and Virginia Johnson – used their own off-campus time to build a website,, and raised the money to distribute a print version."

You can go to The Red Pen to download a copy and read the students' underground newspaper yourself.

I love their exposing the history of censorship at their school (including the Principal ordering a two-page spread on gay students at the school cut out of every issue of the 2009-2010 yearbook.)  And this section from their editorial statement on page 2 was inspiring:

Whereas, in the interest of democracy and honest expression, responsible students ought to have a voice unrestricted by external control,
Whereas this voice must be protected, expanded and well-communicated,
Whereas systems of prior review and administrative regulation of student press do unjustifiably restrict this voice,
Whereas we, students of Kentucky, wish to create an organization which supports all true journalistic endeavors,
Whereas good journalism can and will lead to a more just and open society,
We hereby establish, as an extension of the free student press of Kentucky,
The Red Pen.

Congratulations to the students, and to us all - I'm glad they'll be the journalists of tomorrow!


Thanks to my husband for the heads-up on these students winning this award for their courage!


Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

So awesome. I was just thinking the other day about how my high school paper was censored after the editor published a gutsy but inflammatory op.ed. called "We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used to It." In the next issue they published a bunch of passionate responses (on both sides, not all of them polite), and the admin decided LGBTQ issues were completely off the table thereafter. All opportunities for school-wide discussion were shut down. I hope they have loosed those restrictions since -- this was almost 20 years ago now -- but I don't know. Courageous, indeed, of these Kentucky students to go the extra mile with their underground paper!

Sally Bibrary said...

Now that story made my day! Good for them - it can't be easy standing up for their rights in such an atmosphere. With that kind of courage and dedication, I see plenty of career opportunities in their future.

Liviania said...

This is super awesome. Those students definitely have a great present in journalism, much less future.

Anonymous said...

I love this part of the story: "administrators refused to allow the editor-in-chief of the newspaper to publish an opinion column about how atheists felt ostracized at the school."

Thereby proving the atheists' ostracism case.