Student Press Freedoms and What Champlain Needs to Change

Student journalism cannot fulfill its mandate under prior restraint.

Screen shot of the Student Press Law Center logo, which houses the New Voices Law.

Screen shot of the Student Press Law Center logo, which houses the New Voices Law.

Editor’s Note: This editorial is part of a series of stories regarding student press freedoms at Champlain College. The news story regarding this topic is “Student Reporters Deny College’s Media Relations Request.” Both stories will also be released on The Burly Beaver.


The Vermont New Voices Law, signed by Governor Phil Scott on May 23, 2017, grants protection for freedom of the press and freedom of speech for all school-sponsored media in public high schools and colleges. The law allows student journalists to do their reporting and publish their news stories in a certain jurisdiction without backlash or consequence from administration, faculty or staff. All Vermont public schools were expected to adopt policies based on the New Voices Law.

Champlain College, a private institution, does not have a policy that offers its student journalists protections and guarantees similar to those provided by the New Voices Law. Two recent instances make it clear that such a step is necessary.

Staff members from two different College departments recently contacted student journalists in an apparent attempt to prevent a student from hosting a gathering in one instance and to invoke prior restraint in another.

Students on the staff of The Burly Beaver, an online news publication class project in Associate Professor Erik Shonstrom’s Core 104: Doing Digital Journalism course, had started thinking about bringing more awareness and support to Champlain’s Latinx students. The Burly Beaver’s Social Media Director, Mila Alicea, created and promoted an Instagram Live Roundtable in which she would talk to students who identified as Latinx about how they were feeling after experiencing on-campus microaggressions against them. The College’s ODI Office asked Alicea to postpone her event for “logistical issues.” Alicea responded that she wouldn’t honor the request. A follow-up email from Lisa Mazzariello, director of Student Engagement, explained that the request for postponement was due to coordinating better marketing for the event, but no one withdrew the request for postponement. (See the story in The Crossover, “Minority Students Feel Betrayed by Miscommunication.”) 

Wednesday, Feb. 24, Cassie Melchior, editor-in-chief of The Burly Beaver, Erik Shonstrom The Burly Beaver advisor, Haley Seymour, editor-in-chief of The Crossover, and Susan Greenberg, adjunct journalism instructor in the Professional Writing program, received an email from Leandre Waldo, director of Client and Media Relations regarding student journalists’ requests for interviews.

The email noted that faculty and staff had been receiving several emails from students and student journalists researching stories. The email concluded: “When a request for an interview or statement comes in, I review the request and determine whether it is most appropriate to arrange an interview or provide a written response. Having a central point of contact for all media requests ensures that our responses are both accurate and timely. It’s also more efficient: rather than multiple people replying with similar information, one person can address multiple requests at one time.”

After receiving responses to this request from The Crossover and The Burly Beaver editors and faculty advisors (Warren Baker and Erik Shonstrom, respectively), Waldo sent a follow-up email, in which she wrote, “The intention of the request that I sent to the students editors was intended to assist the reporters, rather than create barriers to a free press.”

Waldo continued: “The understanding is that I will help identify the most appropriate spokesperson for a given topic and will assist with the work of setting up interviews or providing a statement. My interest in making the request was to create a process for our student writers that mirrored those we use with external media outlets.”

Those who received the initial email considered it an effort at prior restraint. We, as student journalists, in keeping with the rights established under the First Amendment, insist on unfettered access to those we want to interview, including subjects we see necessary to completing our stories. 

Given these communications and events, we think it is time for Champlain College to adopt a policy that offers the College’s student journalists protections and guarantees similar to those provided under the New Voices Law. Without a policy in place, student journalists will continue to be shut down, restrained, and eventually censored. Specifically, we call on the College Administration to create a policy that would both educate Champlain College employees on the tenants of a free press and put in place safeguards to protect student journalists from receiving repercussions.

We will continue to report on events that are important to the Champlain College community, and we trust that the College supports us in doing so.