“Writing could also be a way to expose, to protest against, those who have stolen my childhood, my adolescence, and a piece of my youth.”
Writing—whether through storytelling, journalism, or academia—is about broadcasting people’s lives and advocating change, all with the goal of improving the well-being of the individuals. Precisely for this reason, I decided to write for The Maroon. Journalism gives us a way to protest the oppressive and overbearing conditions under which we live.
However, journalism without activism rarely leads to any change. Journalism has always been part of political activism, and it can’t be extracted from the communities that are covered. Consequently, it can’t be objective—as much as many journalists would like to believe. It is always biased because the questions of for whom stories are written and from which perspective they are told will always be present.
Some would argue that if a newspaper has a political leaning, then it can’t be truthful to reality. I vehemently disagree on two accounts. First, reality is what we make it. We have been taught all our lives that the oppression we face and the misery we feel is part of reality. However, that is because the people spreading such narratives benefit from those very narratives, which brings me to the second point: All newspapers have a political leaning—from what is published to who is publishing it—no matter how much they frame themselves as objective. I think that being strongly vocal about which side the newspaper supports only makes the newspaper more truthful.
Furthermore, revolutionary and liberatory movements across the world have historically had to disseminate and deploy their ideas through newspapers. From Ms., the American feminist magazine, to Fatat al-Sharq, an Arab magazine that supported feminist demands as well as liberation from British occupation, good journalism has inspired people to act, to enact positive social change, to liberate. Just as with any newspaper, it is the responsibility of The Maroon to write the dismantlement and abolition of oppressive systems into reality. Unfortunately, The Maroon sometimes refrains from taking stands when there is an ongoing student mobilization taking place—which is a failure to meet its responsibility as a journalistic voice.
Specifically, The Maroon leans more towards reporting than engaging in actual activism. While media coverage is in a way a branch of activism in itself, in today’s world—where everyone has a phone and can broadcast what’s happening anywhere to anyone—reporting and writing columns is not enough. Engaging in mobilizing and organizing should be one of The Maroon’s main concerns. During the protests in the summer in solidarity with Palestine, a piece titled “Join the Incoming USG in Standing with Palestine” was published. The student who wrote the piece mobilized the readers of The Maroon to sign a petition in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. This was activism.
The recent rally that took place on the main quad after Shaoxiong Zheng’s murder highlighted conflicting opinions among the UChicago community. On the one hand, some demands in the rally acknowledged the systemic racism inherent in the police and the fact that increasing police presence would cause more harm than good. On the other hand, some were calling for more on-campus police and surveillance, which was apparent in some of the displayed signs as well as in the petition signed by more than 300 faculty members. Some individuals who attended the rally expressed racist sentiments and held anti-Black signs. For instance, some of the signs appropriated Black Lives Matter slogans, such as “student lives matter,” with complete ignorance to the specificity of these slogans to the fight against systemic racism. In addition, an international student from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who attended the rally said that “The Black kid who killed [Zheng]…was raised in drugs…gun violence…it raised him. It’s about Chicago.”
The Maroon did in fact report on this incident, but only passively; the reporters did not participate. It felt as if The Maroon was an outsider. Nonetheless, I think the rally was a good opportunity for The Maroon to start a conversation between the two groups. It started this conversation by publishing an article by the rally organizers titled “We Want Safety,” but that is not enough; I think there is more to be done. I personally don’t agree with the petition or the proposal to increase on-campus surveillance as they are nothing but reactionary.
I am also an international student, and these recent events made me panic to the point that I wanted to go back home because I couldn’t handle being constantly anxious. I was too scared to leave my room or attend any of my classes. Moreover, international students—who are mostly non-white—don’t occupy positions of high privilege in the United States; in fact, we are subjected to discrimination and racism. But being subjected to racism doesn’t justify ignoring—and with these demands the consequence of reproducing—other forms of racism that the Black community is facing. When I think about my positionality both as an international student and as an abolitionist, I also think of these international students as potential allies in participating in solutions that reduce gun violence on campus without involving more police or surveillance.
Therefore, The Maroon—since it expresses the ideas of UChicago students—has an obligation to organize students by holding events that aim to open up important conversations about such anti-Black rhetoric and ways to decrease the crime rate in Hyde Park. By doing so, we can bring together possible allies to work for a safer neighborhood—while simultaneously working to abolish racist systems. As The Maroon is not only part of UChicago but also part of the Hyde Park community, such demands—such as increasing the presence of the University of Chicago Police Department and placing surveillance cameras all over campus and the surrounding streets—hurt both the students on campus and the community where they reside.
Though good journalism requires investigation and research, good journalism also requires taking bold, radical stands. Giving media coverage to UChicago student movements that lead campaigns against oppressive systems is not enough. Instead of only reporting, The Maroon can have a more profound impact by being vocal about where it stands. It should encourage its writers to start their own campaigns through the paper or by reaching out to student movements to help in mobilizing and organizing.
One student movement that does great work is #CareNotCops, which operates under UChicago United. It in fact organized an event on December 2 to discuss with students what a campus without police would look like. I think The Maroon should reach out to interview organizers and attendees of such events, encourage people to participate in and write about those events, and continue from there by cohosting similar events. In the meantime, sign this letter addressed to the University’s administration—formulated by UChicago United—rejecting the increase in police presence on campus and demanding the administration to invest in the healing of the community.
Rawan Abbas is a student-at-large in the College.