The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Student Government Association statement on S&B coverage

The following open letter was released in the evening on Friday, October 15. The letter, signed by SGA Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) Ashton Aveling, is also noted as being approved by SGA officials, the theatre and dance department student educational policy committee (SEPC) and members of the cast of “Arcadia.” It was distributed first via the anonymous geographically-based forum Yik Yak and the official SGA Instagram account, then via email to S&B editors an hour later. The original link to SGA’s copy of the document can be found here, and the Instagram post is accessible here.

Earlier this week, the SGA president asked both S&B editors in chief to meet with him, the VPAA and vice president for student affairs (VPSA) to discuss the situation surrounding the S&B article on the suspension of Associate Professor Ellen Mease. This meeting, also to be attended by Arts Editor Nadia Langley, was scheduled for Thursday, October 14. Fifteen minutes prior to the meeting, SGA notified us that two members would not be able to make it to the meeting and asked to reschedule to noon the following day (Friday, October 15), a time at which the S&B editors involved were not available.

We stand by our original article and editors’ note. However, there are a number of factual inconsistencies and contextual omissions in the open letter that we wish to correct, and we will be releasing a statement addressing said inconsistencies after fall break.

As always, we appreciate your readership.

Abraham Teuber and Eva Hill, editors in chief



Rodriguez/Kenley/Aveling administration

This is an immensely complicated situation. Here’s a brief TL;DR:

  • The S&B editor’s note misrepresents the SEPC as somehow separate from the cast of Arcadia and the people allegedly victimized by Ellen Mease.
  • The S&B obtained interviews with their former key source under false pretenses and their reporting methods made students sufficiently uncomfortable that they came to SGA asking for help.
  • The S&B implies that the SEPC somehow pressured their former key source into withdrawing consent, which is baseless and objectively false.
  • The S&B alleges that SGA threatened your funding. This is again, objectively false. 

Dear Abraham, Eva, and Nadia,

We, members of the SGA Cabinet, with the support of the Theatre and Dance SEPC, want to preface this open letter and statement by saying that we value the Scarlet & Black’s position as a credible, student-run newsource and hope to repair our relationship with you. It is necessary that we write this letter to comment on your recent editor’s note, both at the request of affected students in the theatre department and in order to justify our actions to the constituency that we represent. Please note that this entire situation has been deeply unpleasant for the students involved. We would have preferred not to write this, and regret that our earlier communications with you were not treated with the severity requested by the affected students.

You are correct that it is rare for student representatives to be involved in the details of your reporting process. It has been thankfully rare that there’s been a compelling need for this. Our involvement was directly requested by students affected by both the alleged incident and affected by the Scarlet & Black’s decision to involve itself. Actions of Scarlet & Black editors and writers made students feel sufficiently uncomfortable, pressured, and coerced that they came to SGA asking for help. This would be severe even if it wasn’t in the aftermath of the alleged physical assault, and directed towards both students who’d survived this event and students impacted by Mease’s alleged actions in other contexts and times. I have four main points to walk you through, explaining our exact reasoning and perspective in an effort to clarify what your editor’s note left unsaid. 

First, your note represents the Theater & Dance Student Educational Policy Committee (SEPC) as some detached body of ‘student representatives,’ instead of people, deeply connected to all aspects of the department, speaking for their peers and for themselves. It’s important that these students were key stakeholders because you— Abraham, Eva, and Nadia— treated their concerns as if they were irrelevant and detached from the situation both while working with the SEPC and directly in your editor’s note. Three out of the five students on the ThD SEPC were directly involved with Arcadia‘s production. Two members were present for the alleged incident. All members have worked with Ellen Mease, and been harmed by her alleged behavior. Several described extreme discomfort with the investigative methods used by Scarlet & Black staff to attempt to gather information from them. Throughout the past month, they’ve been in continuous, close contact with other students affected by the incident. They asked SGA to assist them in advocacy starting about an hour after the alleged event. They requested that you not record the meeting on October 2nd for several reasons: in order to trust you with the information that they were personally affected by the alleged actions of Mease, their personal objections to both the Scarlet & Black’s manner of reporting the story and your choice to highlight the situation of the cast directly before the show’s premiere (evidence of which is detailed below), as well as their understandable fears that publishing a detailed account would invite retaliation from the alleged perpetrator, even without the fact that your key account had been obtained on false grounds, as I’ll describe next. You had enough information to understand the context of the SEPC members’ involvement and their position, and the fact that you ignored it is difficult to understand.

Second, your actions made students uncomfortable and they came to us for help of their own volition. You describe a key source that withdrew consent for the Scarlet & Black to include their story. You do not mention that this source spoke to you with the request that you (a) remove their portion of the story if anyone else involved in the situation objected and (b) show the story to them before publication. You (a) did not listen to clear discomfort from other students involved in the situation and (b) did not reach out to show your source the story before evidently rushing to publish. In fact, you told us and the SEPC that it was explicitly against your policy as a publication to show anyone a draft before publication, which means you obtained interviews with the affected student under a false pretense. You also insinuate that the SEPC or SGA pressured your source into withdrawing consent. Not only is this overwhelmingly patronizing, but in fact, the SEPC first asked you to confirm with your source that they felt comfortable with you continuing to tell their story, asking you to follow through on your prior commitment to reach out to them before publication to get their input. You declined to do this, at which point the SEPC determined it would be appropriate for a fellow cast member of Arcadia to check in with the anonymous student about prior comments they had made about feeling uncomfortable with Scarlet & Black reporting practices, particularly pressure to divulge their identity publicly. This direct follow-up from a fellow cast member to the student had not occurred when the anonymous student decided to withdraw consent, which was a wholly independent decision on their part.

Further, in the context of justifying your communication patterns with students about the Arcadia incident, you mention “multiple attempts to contact students via different forms of communication” and that you “received no notification from students that they did not wish to be contacted.” To be precise on why this is misleading, please remember that Arts Editor Nadia Langley individually messaged (and called in at least one case) at least three friends of a student who had already had an unpleasant interview experience with an Scarlet & Black journalist to ask for that student’s personal phone number, then after obtaining the number against the student’s wishes, asked that student for more information that the student had already told you they were unwilling to discuss for legal reasons, through both text and— when that was ignored— personal social media. You had already reached this student through email and had no reason to resort to personal means of communication or asking friends for their contact information. Scarlet & Black reporters also cold-emailed several members of the cast of Arcadia to ask for details, in multiple cases sending an explicit description of the reporter’s understanding of the alleged incident along with the emailed request for information. In another case, a reporter emailed a member of the cast on September 30th, shortly after being told by that member of the cast that they couldn’t discuss the incident, with the reporter’s understanding of explicit details of the alleged incident and another request to validate the details that the student had said they could not discuss. A consistent theme here is a disregard for boundaries, implicit and explicit.

Even more, it’s clear that the Scarlet & Black fully intended to highlight the circumstances faced by the cast of Arcadia right before the show opened, after cast members, crew members, and students affected by prior alleged behavior of Mease had spent time, energy, and emotional labor communicating to you their extreme discomfort with this public exposé. The Scarlet & Black’s print edition story about the alleged incident from this week literally has as its closing line, “‘Arcadia’ will hold performances in Roberts Theatre this weekend, Oct. 8-10,” despite the paper’s physical release being on October 11th. You refrained from publishing right before opening night only when the SEPC directly pleaded for you to refrain. This was after you sent them another set of demanding questions in response to the anonymous student’s withdrawal of consent, apparently with the intent to retaliate against the SEPC for the withdrawal by framing it as interference with your reporting. In doing so, you failed to consider the reality that this student withdrew this statement of their own free will. This framing is exactly the narrative you chose to publish in your October 11th editor’s note.

Third, members of the SGA Cabinet connected you to the SEPC, which brought you their concerns and students’ concerns in confidence, with the expectation that you’d be willing to work with them and us to respect the wishes of the cast of Arcadia and other affected students. Instead, you violated the explicitly agreed confidentiality of your discussions with the affected students in order to manufacture a false narrative of SGA and the SEPC threatening the freedom of the press, the survival of which was wholly dependent on the involved students not speaking out against you to describe their experiences — as some have now done on social media.

Also note that the three SGA Cabinet members involved never requested you to cancel your story; our only request was that you listen to the concerns of students with a stake in the issue and minimize the harm your planned course of actions would have knowingly or unknowingly inflicted. By respecting the anonymous source’s withdrawal of consent and respecting the affected students’ request to avoid publishing an article centering the production difficulties of the cast of Arcadia until after the performance run had concluded, we had considered you to have met your obligations of not inflicting harm, and told you exactly this on the evening of October 10th:

Fourth, you frame your entire note around concerns that your journalistic freedom and independence are being threatened based on the content of things you’ve published. This is not the case. SGA has zero jurisdiction over the Scarlet & Black’s funding. However, to reiterate, a student involved was coerced into speaking to Scarlet & Black journalists on the false pretense that their wishes would be respected, your reporting practices violated explicit and implicit boundaries, and the students closest to this alleged event have been left hurt, exposed, and angry. That your journalistic practices resulted in these outcomes may have the potential to alter your conditions of operations because of the context you exist in, which you should know. The Scarlet & Black has no published ethics policy or any publicized procedure for handling a journalistic grievance. It’s also unclear if your journalists, particularly the journalist involved with this story, received any kind of training to prepare them to work with people in the aftermath of a stressful and traumatic event. 

This is important because, while you are somewhat independent, the Scarlet and Black is not an island. Culturally, you exist at a tiny private liberal arts college where everyone knows everyone and your intended readership is largely the students of Grinnell College. Logistically, much of your publication funding—  including your staff wages—  comes directly from the Student Activity Fee, a flat tax that all students pay into, coordinated through the College’s Office of the Treasurer. Physically, your office space exists inside the student center, a campus building. You as editors and the Scarlet & Black as a publication are inextricably enmeshed into the culture of Grinnell College as a private institution. Please do not let it be foreign to you that consent is a continuing conversation and that structural power dynamics can make it difficult for affected individuals to individually speak out against an organization’s actions. Your independence and your funding also rest on consent: the Student Publications And Radio Committee is an organization that is directly accountable to the student body, because it controls ⅓ of their student activity fee, including the student activity fees of those who felt harmed by your actions.

To that end, in order for you to be effective as publication editors and for the Scarlet & Black to be effective as a publication, students need to be able to trust that your reporting will not negatively affect them through direct pressure or undesired public exposure; that you will not sensationalize, exaggerate, and omit crucial facts; and that you will consider the context of your actions. Failing to consider these has already damaged your credibility among current students, which we sincerely consider to be unfortunate. The Scarlet & Black has been a trusted organization at this college for over a century and we would like to see this continue. We hope that mistrust from the events of September and October heals and that we and other student leaders can arrive at a consensus on how best to move forward.


Ashton Aveling ‘22

Vice-President for Academic Affairs, GCSGA

With approval and consent from the Theatre & Dance SEPC, SGA Cabinet, & members of the cast of Arcadia.

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  • T

    Theatre AlumOct 29, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    To the question on what the S+B gains from publishing an article, I would argue that journalists should not personally gain anything from any article that they publish. Their goal is to inform the public about what happens in the jurisdiction they cover. I would also argue that a professor overstepping their boundaries is certainly newsworthy, and bringing it to light has the power to enact change in a way that keeping it hushed does not. The readership of the S+B includes not just the current campus community, but an ever-growing alumni network that has the power to expose a pattern of behavior, and to provide allyship in a variety of ways to ensure events aren’t repeated. In the past, student papers have neglected to investigate and report professorial abuses of power, and as a result tenured professors have continued in their roles, traumatizing several generations of students. At the same time, student papers have broken major news stories that have had national impact, and brought about important change. I am sorry for the students who were at the receiving end of this, and for the whole ARCADIA cast. I am also sorry for the student reporters who have been the victims of personal attacks for doing their jobs as journalists. Everyone here is learning, everyone here is doing what they think is their job, what they think is morally right. Let’s not let the real story escape while we pull each other apart.

  • A

    Another Current StudentOct 21, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    The discourse sparked by this publication is absolutely bonkers to me. Why was the publication of this article so important to the S&B? Regardless of journalistic integrity/obligations we are talking about a paper with the readership of under 5,000 people. The victim you are talking about has to relive their trauma, likely brought up via word of mouth around them consistently because the story you decided to provide the precise details on happens to exist within a pretty isolated bubble. Who benefited from sharing this story? It doesn’t help the victim who didn’t want their story shared (whether that was mediated through SGA or directly coming from them), students in theatre were already aware of the inappropriate dynamics going on and were working on their own way to open an investigation on Mease, which the publication may have compromised, and now you, the writers of SGA face consistent backlash because sharing this story was clearly upsetting for the community. So why, with your readership being majority students of the college, most of them upset with your choice to publish this article, are you all still doubling down on the necessity to share this story? We are all already facing the damage of systemic issues the college administration presents, so why continue to work against another student organization simply trying to effect change and advocate for fellow students? Was all of this really worth an article that outlined an abusive incident on a student, regardless of the journalistic steps that work taken to go about acquiring the details? All for it to gain slightly more traction than the typical couple thousand readers you have? In the grand scheme of it all, was this really worth it to the editors?

  • C

    Current StudentOct 18, 2021 at 10:41 pm

    @ Alum,
    I want to note that in many situations, consent IS a continuing conversation (especially, for example, when it comes to engaging in sexual activity).

    However, in this case the source initially agreed to an interview on the record with a journalist, and as I (a student who has never contributed to the paper or trained in any journalistic capacity) understand it, after a source gives their statements, the journalist can and will use that information for their article.
    The SGA letter also doesn’t make it clear if the S&B actually agreed to the sharing of the article w/ the source before the interview was conducted (by my assumption, having read the editors’ note, I’m almost positive they did not). I would actually be concerned if the S&B HAD agreed to this, because as Alum stated, newspapers can’t operate that way. And if the source made this request after the fact, the newspaper can’t honor that request. It’s a huge conflict of interest for a source to read an article before publication. If the newspaper is acting ethically, they shouldn’t even have writers reporting on issues they are too close to (for example, having a mail room worker report on the mail room strike that there was an article about last week).

    I do feel for the source, especially given their trauma, and it is very unfortunate if they had an uncomfortable experience with S&B staff. But I also wanted to point out that here, the newspaper actually DID respect the source’s wishes to withdraw their identity AND their statement, so the information from the source wasn’t even used in the article.

    As far as consent to be contacted, that’s where I get a little confused. Consent does not work that way with emails and messages, with the exception of, say, a restraining order. Journalists have to reach out to sources, and there really is no other way to do that. Journalists can be incredibly fucking persistent about reaching out, too, but that’s quite literally a part of their job. I’m also unsure what the SGA letter meant by “cold emailed.” Isn’t every email that any one of us sends, with the exception of a requested reply, a “cold” email?

    I also wanted to state that as a current student, I totally agree that S&B editors are student leaders in powerful positions. And although SGA doesn’t have control over S&B funding, I also wholeheartedly agree that we as students pay for a good portion of the newspaper’s funding. These are simple facts. Another simple fact is that SGA members are also powerful student leaders, and student representatives. In fact, just as S&B funding was contributed to by every single current enrolled student, SGA members also represent every single current enrolled student—including the entirety of the S&B staff. I’m not sure SGA is considering the concerns of this population of their constituency, but then again, I’ve never participated in SGA either, so what do I know.

    But this is another reason why it bothers me that fellow students would attack the professionalism of a student organization. We have lots of amazing professional organizations on campus—for example, the union. I respect these students as professionals and know that these organizations invest in training. S&B staff DO have training, and aim to provide a professional news source. If we as students are mad at the paper, attacking the staff’s training is not the way to express it.

    Lastly, I just want to say that students have a right to be mad, or even furious, at the newspaper. Students have a right to feel however they want to about the newspaper, actually. And I would be very surprised if the newspaper has any issue with students/sources speaking out about their experiences, as this SGA letter has noted, on personal social media. It’s not our responsibility to like them; it’s not their job to appease us. It IS their job to inform us. To my understanding, all the S&B IS concerned about is the actions of other students in altering, preventing, or otherwise influencing publication.

  • A

    AlumOct 18, 2021 at 6:47 pm

    Undoubtedly the students who experienced the alleged victimization here are going through a lot of pain. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the S&B violated their rights. I’m alarmed at how this statement characterizes “consent.” For example, “consent is a continuing conversation” is a completely false statement and to characterize it otherwise does a disservice to everyone involved by setting up impossible expectations.

    Rather than point fingers at the S&B, SGA and the SEPC would be better off helping students launch formal complaints of professor misconduct through the college and utilizing whistleblower channels and finding ways to mitigate the negative potential effects of doing so. Or, if it’s really a concern, encourage the S&B to publicize its practices and how they are conducted so students better understand the process and what is and isn’t to be expected when being contacted by its reporters or other members of the media.

    Grinnellians are well-poised to become the world’s political leaders and activists. I sincerely hope journalists will someday contact you, the current students, for your expertise and perspectives in the important work you will be doing after you graduate. When they do, they are likely to be persistent; they’ll find you on social media, at your home or work, or ask your friends and family how to get to you. When they speak to you, you may feel pressured and want to put conditions on your statements that the reporter won’t be able to agree to. This is a great opportunity to learn about how you might want to interact with journalists on controversial, sensitive, and even personally painful topics, or guide others to do so. You may have to make tough choices about whether to speak out about the world’s injustices and whether doing so will negatively affect you “through direct pressure or undesired public exposure”. (And you may decide it’s not worth risking things like your privacy, your job, or the unwanted attention that may come with it.) But you won’t be able to decide after the fact.

  • F

    Former studentOct 17, 2021 at 8:06 pm

    Wow. This letter is ridiculous. Apparently current students have no understanding of the role of a newspaper. I disagree with every part of this, but specifically: newspapers do not owe sources a review of the piece they plan to publish, even if the source has requested it. In fact it’s highly unethical for sources to be able to review content before publication. What are they teaching at Grinnell right now, seriously?

  • R

    rip algernonOct 17, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    This letter is (ironically) patronizing and continues to raise serious concerns about the extent of SGA’s (and by extension, the administration’s) control over independent student publications. Regardless of the perceived impact of the article, it is disingenuous to weaponize the trauma of victims into a continued attack on freedom of speech against whom you describe as fellow students. Even though you specifically state that SGA has no jurisdiction over S&B funding, you fail to acknowledge the obvious conflict of interest as a student organization that is responsible for enforcing many College policies.

    Additionally, it is extremely concerning to see the continued ad hominem from members of SGA regarding the journalistic qualifications of S&B editors and staff. Last time I checked, SGA consists of college students with no training running a public bureaucracy, imposing singular thought on the student body. Nobody here can use academic credentials to disqualify anyone here, since nobody here is “qualified.” What kind of example are high-ranking members of SGA setting for the future of self-government when they publicize personal attacks on the credibility and qualifications of the press? SGA is seemingly running rampant on emotion and first takes, without consideration for actual policy or school regulations. The behavior of SGA in this situation is highly disconcerting, and makes for a strong case against such a significant student government in the first place. SGA should be helping the student body as a middle-man between the administration, rather than power-tripping over the semblance of perceived authority.

  • R

    Raven Chanel McClendon '22Oct 16, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    It is appalling to me that you, the editors-in-chief of our once beloved S&B, would like to now comment on “factual inconsistencies and contextual omissions” after you decided to publish the misleading article and dishonest editors’ note that sent a victim of this professor’s (alleged) abuse into distress. I truly believe you all had an opportunity to bring all of this professor’s (alleged) wrongdoings to the light and bring her to justice, in due time, yet you hastily squandered it. I am wholeheartedly disappointed in every single S&B staff member involved. As someone who has trusted the S&B with their words, I am embarrassed to now have them associated with this kind of journalism. Perhaps your reporting and investigative methods are “ethical,” absolutely acceptable, and protected by the First Amendment. However, there comes a time when morals should outweigh questionable “ethics.” That time is now. In your high positions, you both have an opportunity to change what “ethical” reporting is for the better. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing ethical about manipulation of the truth, omission of fact, coercion, harassment, or disregard for victim(s) of abuse. This is not the only instance in this semester that your staff has considered consent an afterthought in favor of “ethical” and “honest” reporting. Each day, I am increasingly dismayed that you both have chosen to ignore my email to you. After my consultation with a lawyer, I was informed that reporters are able to weaponize the First Amendment for damn near whatever they please, including plastering an unauthorized photo of a student on the front page of their newspaper. Even though you apparently did not break any laws, I truly do feel quite violated and hurt that my peers would not only forgo receiving my consent but are choosing to ignore me. Not much can be done about the removal of my articles, but I do want it publicly known that I am severing all ties with this newspaper. I am so glad that you “stand by [your] original article and editors’ note” because now I know remorse for the severe harm you have caused is not something any of you feel. I truly hope you are all proud of yourselves and your “ethical” reporting. Take a bow and give yourselves a round of applause.