We live in shades of gray: writing about “demilitarize mcdaniel”

Hanna Barker

Co-Commentary Editor

The headline of this commentary is taken from the Facebook page of “Students Against Self Righteous Protesting.” I love the sentence because it is so accurate. It directly applies not only to the entire “Demilitarize McDaniel” story itself, but also to the entire process of writing it.

This article was so ethically challenging. I made it my goal to uphold the standards of fair and balanced reporting. But even then, I could see the effect I was having on some of the people I talked to.

One day, I asked Sarina how she’d feel if the Free Press used her picture in the newspaper, and it upset her.

“I don’t mind that my picture was taken, I mind the way it was used online and I would VERY MUCH mind if it was used to supplement an article that has nothing to do with what the sign in my photograph even says,” she said to me on Facebook.

The thing is, the article became so in depth that it actually does relate to the photo now. Sarina, I hope you can forgive me for using the photos on Facebook, but they were useful in not only illustrating how people’s hateful comments affected you, but also in showing how people are more likely to say harsher things online because it’s almost as if they aren’t going to be held accountable for it.

This leads me to my next point. I was asked by an editor to cut out some of the harsh language, but I resisted. I think it is important for people to see what is said online and how it affects people. Notice how none of the quotes I obtained in person were anywhere near that intense. People will say things on Facebook that they won’t say in real life.

People had such strong opinions on this entire “Demilitarize McDaniel” issue. The things they said, though, were largely not even based on fact. They were based on rumors and hearsay and Facebook. I’d really like to know how many people actually took the time to hear what Sarina and Julia had to say. I wouldn’t expect it to drastically change their opinions, but at least they could formulate their opinions around the truth. Many of the things people were saying on Facebook were based on false information, and many of them hadn’t even seen the protest firsthand.

Writing this article was so difficult because there were so many inconsistencies in the information, because nobody really knew exactly what was going on. Even I initially had no clue. My first awareness that there had been any sort of protest was when my friend told me she ate lunch with two people who contacted her through Facebook and wanted her to join their organization. My friend told me that there was a protest, and so our group of friends jokingly referred to them as “the anarchists” whenever they’d come up in conversation. It wasn’t very good of us to do that, but it was because we didn’t really understand anything about the situation.

It wasn’t until I started to write this article that I realized that there was a lot more to this story than I’d originally thought. I interviewed Julia and she seemed like an educated person, which totally contradicts the stuff people have been saying. I realized that I sit next to Sarina in one of my classes, and we had always been friendly toward one another even though we didn’t know each other that well. It was useful to get to know these people on a more personal level, because it made me consider their feelings while writing this article. It made it so important for me to dig deeper, to ensure accuracy.

I faced so many ethical dilemmas during this process, such as the aforementioned decision to use the photographs. It was hard for me to decide whether or not to use information from Julia’s blog, which I ultimately did use because it was published on a public domain and because I thought it provided some extra insight. I also questioned whether or not I should include people’s comments from Facebook, but then I decided that they’re the ones that put it out there for anybody to see.

There were so many gray areas I had to navigate, but I put a lot of consideration into each decision I made, and I regret nothing. I learned that it is so important to take the time to be informed. My notes for this article totaled 6 pages typed, single-spaced. I used over 15 sources for this article. I tried to include any point of view I could find. I tried not to judge people for saying harsh things, which was difficult. I tried to maintain a lack of bias while gathering information and writing this piece, because I do have an opinion on the demilitarization of McDaniel, and my opinion slightly shifted as I became more informed. While I don’t agree that ROTC should be removed from this campus, I can honestly say that I respect other opinions on the matter.

I hope that people read the article and this commentary, as well as Amber’s wonderful sidebar, and take something away from it. It’s so important to at least try to understand multiple sides of a story before forming an opinion, and it’s even more important to consider the fact that what you say has consequences. Personal attacks are never justified, and you can hide behind the excuse that it’s your own opinion and therefore you have a right to feel that way, but when do you have the right to hurt somebody? There’s a gray area there, so just be careful.