Student paper restricts term, restricts its writers
Students on The Playwickian, the school newspaper at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, Pa., recently announced that they no longer publish the school’s mascot name, which is the Redskins. Instead of using the term, the journalists circumvent it — for example, calling the football team the Neshaminy football squad, not the Neshaminy Redskins. In its "Unsigned Editorial: Why we won't publish the R-word" — representing two-thirds of the editorial board — the board describes the word as “a term of hate.” Tension between administrators and the board gained national attention when administrators told the board that it had to use the term.
As a Neshaminy alumnus myself, I have only heard the word used to foster community for school-wide events. However, many members of the community rightfully see the word as derogatory given its history.
It is admirable that the board took a strong stance on the use of a controversial word. Furthermore, it is understandable that the board will not use the term in sections like news, based on the opinion of the majority. After all, article style should be uniform across sections.
By banning the word from all parts of the paper, though, the editorial board misunderstood its role as a learning publication within the high school. The Playwickian is a publication that is meant to encourage the growth of young writers and introduce students to journalism.
The board should have made a clear exception for the term’s use in editorials. After all, there is a clear distinction between individuals’ opinions and the editorial board’s opinions. The board was justified in taking the stance that it did against the term in articles that express the opinion of the entire paper. However, it is not justified in blanketing this stance to individuals’ editorials.
While the editorial board has the right to place restrictions on expletives, this specific restriction seems to place barriers between the board and the student body. Students may not be receptive to controversial rules handed down by the board, which may hinder their relationship with the paper. They should not feel disconnected from a paper that can provide a great learning experience.
Especially in a paper in which the work of first-time writers is published, there should not be a restrictive environment over the use of a term that has mixed connotations. This environment is not healthy for fostering a student’s abilities, which should be the top priority of the paper. High school is a vital time to develop interests, and the newspaper’s hard stance on this term could stop some students from exploring an interest in journalism.
When considering the term in individual editorials, the board should allow students to use their own discretion with the term to promote an unrestricted environment for individual editorial writers.