By The Berea Torch
On February 14, 2022, AVP of Student Life Gus Gerassimides sent an email to Ülvi Gitaliyev about complaints against The Berea Torch. Those complaints are stated verbatim from the email (also the cover image above).
- “Soliciting on campus as an unofficial organization”
- “Using campus resources to produce an unofficial publication”
- “Creating a threatening environment for students”
The meeting was then set to be had on February 22, 2022, with Ülvi Gitaliyev, Gus Gerassimides, Rachel Burnside, Charles Saunders, and a member of Public Safety. Multiple members of The Berea Torch attended this meeting, as well, though, being uninvited but were accepted, regardless. Gus Gerassimides did NOT attend the meeting. Before the meeting, it was stated that the meeting would be recorded on the Public Safety officer’s body cam. We, The Berea Torch, also audio recorded the meeting for ourselves.
In the meeting, the main point of discussion was the imagery used on The Berea Torch posters, it being Soviet, and how there were complaints that it was triggering. Charles Saunders stated, “it was triggering to people from Eastern Europe and that it has brought up trauma – triggered trauma response from history and stories told from their family” and “basically, they ask you use different imagery.” Lily Barnette, the co-founder of The Berea Torch, asked that if we changed the imagery on the posters, could they be posted again, and Charles Saunders responded with “no… because you have to be recognized by the College.” Furthermore, it was explained how they were not allowed to be posted on campus spaces because everything, including tables, laptops, printers, etc., are deemed “campus resources.” Charles Saunders stated, “with this policy, we are usually lenient until we start getting complaints. And then once we get a complaint, we have to actually enforce the policy.” When asked for transcripts of the formal complaints, Charles Saunders said, “that is a good question.”
Something interested to note from the meeting is that Charles Saunders said, “Also, the other thing I see where y’all have been doing interviews. Just be aware where you are not a recognized student organization, with the interviews, if you misquote or someone doesn’t like what you quote or how you portray the interview, you do open yourselves up for a lawsuit, so, and the school will not have your support in that.”
The other complaint, specifically the third, was not addressed in the meeting. In fact, The Berea Torch created a document addressing each of the formal complaints with citations from the Student Handbook and the Registered Student that was brought to the meeting. It was said by Charles Saunders that the document would be forwarded to Gus Gerassimides and that we could have a meeting with him, actually present.
On February 28, 2022, Ülvi Gitaliyev sent a follow-up email to Gus Gerassimides about scheduling a meeting to discuss his concerns and our rights within the campus, to which he never got a response. And that brings us today, March 4, 2022, with the most recent development of Gus Gerassimides sending out an email to the entire campus, including students, faculty, and staff, about The Berea Torch.
The Berea Torch finds this highly disrespectful. We attempted to communicate with Gus Gerasassimides, and he failed to meet with us multiple times.
In his recent email, he states, “Across the country, unrecognized organizations, because they are not subject to college rules or oversight, pose increased risks to students and the campus community.” What risk does The Berea Torch pose? Does it not seem like a gross generalization to say that independent publications cause risk to students and the campus community when those publications are a specific place for students and the campus community to voice their opinions?
Furthermore, he stated, “Students, faculty, and staff are discouraged from giving interviews to Berea Torch representatives or otherwise supporting group operations.” Why is this discouraged? Everyone reserves the right to decline invitations by The Berea Torch, but equally, everyone reserves the right to interact with us. We, the campus community as a whole, are not children that need to be told who we can and cannot interact with.
The Berea Torch has decided to create a petition for those against the suppression of independent media at Berea College! We are willing to fight this until the end and stay an independent student-run publication!
7 responses to “Student Life Attempts to Suppress The Berea Torch”
This is absolutely ridiculous! This is a blatant attack on our free speech and rights as students. I hope that instead of following Gus’s advice the students will offer even more support. The popularity of the torch proves how much we needed an uncensored, unsanitized platform to share opinions and air grievances. Gus and admin should speak for themselves; the students do not feel threatened but admin is clearly afraid of our freedom to speak our minds. Berea cares more about appearances and reputation than they do about students actual needs. At a larger institution, no admin in their right mind would try to stem a students’ right to free speech the way that Gus has. Berea has been getting away with manipulating our rights the way that an emotionally abusive, sheltering parent would, for decades. Gus knows he can’t shut down the torch and he knows he’d lose a debate with you all, that’s why he’s taking this disrespectful, dishonest approach. We should keep using the torch and offering more support until it becomes an immutable fact of our community.
Every day I lose a little bit of respect for this college. That email was absolutely ridiculous. There is nothing dangerous about the torch. They’re just scared that the façade they built will crumble.
As a parent of a Berea student, I have an abiding respect for those students who chose from among thousands of very fine and conventional institutions to go to a College that fosters independent and unconventional thinking. Likewise, I have an expectation that Berea College treats students with respect and honor and uphold the values that they stand for.
As an academic, the specter of an institution trying to silence student voices of dissent while hiding behind the technicality and subjective interpretation of rules of conduct is both utterly familiar and perpetually alarming. Familiar, as student free-speech rights — often in the context of civil rights, anti-war speech, and queer and trans rights — have been an age-old conflict. however, the issue was clearly settled more than 50 years ago with the Supreme Court’s application of its 1969 landmark case, Tinker v. Des Moines. The Court held that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate, ” making crystal clear students’ First Amendment rights in schools.
According to the Student Press Law Center: “Although public schools can establish reasonable restrictions as to the time, place and manner of distribution of independently produced student publications, they cannot absolutely forbid their distribution on school grounds. As long as the publication contains no unlawful content (libel, obscenity, etc.).”
Tearing down flyers and advertisements, discouraging student and faculty participation, and forbidding use of “school resources“ in the form of tables and chairs is absolutely a form of prior restraint and a violation of students first amendment rights. No doubt the Kentucky ACLU, the Kentucky Press Association, and the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at UoK would take a keen interest in this.
They cannot shut y’all down, it’s all just complete fear mongering. But they know that and we all know that too. They are scared of students having a platform to speak their minds and voice concerns about conditions at the school, administration, etc. This is absolutely ridiculous. Berea is better than this, I hope Gus knows he looks like a fool. I had a judicial meeting with him once (for something I did not do) and once I was showed the camera footage and told them “Hey, that is obviously not me.” he lectured me about needing to be careful about the people I surround myself with. I hope y’all keep doing what you’re doing and you have my support.
My name is Michael Frazier. As executive director for the a Kentucky Student Rights Coalition, Kentucky’s premier organization dedicated to standing up for a Kentucky’s college students in our state legislature, I am deeply concerned by the actions at Berea College. The actions presented here is why our state legislature imposed strict restrictions on our public colleges and forced them to affirm student free expression, speech, organization, and publication rights with the passage of the Kentucky Campus Free Speech Protection Act.
Please reach out to me. I would like to further discuss what is happening. I would also like to remind Berea College that their private status does not preempt them from respecting free expression, that their student code of conduct is seen as a binding contact in our Commonwealth and there are quite a few guarantees for free expression. Tread carefully on the rights of your students.
Hi Michael! We would love to discuss things further with you. We have tried reaching out to you but please, email us at email@example.com. Thank you!
What the other responses say. I genuinely like the Torch. Nothing dangerous about it. Thanks be to Gus, for raising everyone’s awareness to it!