Students fighting First Amendment infringement for greater good

In many ways journalists have a thankless job. They are sometimes punished for their right to report, and this should scare everyone. That seems to be the case at James Madison University, where the Office of Judicial Affairs charged two writers with The Breeze student publication for trespassing, disorderly conduct and non-compliance with an official request after they entered Hillside Hall, an on-campus dormitory, to interview students for an article, according to the Daily News-Record.


Editor in Chief Tim Chapman and reporter Katie Hibson went to the residence hall to talk to residents about a ""Peeping Tom"" incident that had recently occurred. The university's residence hall manual states that guests are allowed to be in the residence halls as long as an escort is present, and Chapman and Hibson behaved within boundaries.

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Hibson interviewed students outdoors and requested they accompany her inside. Even so, a resident adviser asked Hibson to leave. Hibson returned to the hall with Chapman to clear up any misunderstandings with the resident adviser. They even entered the hall with a resident they were acquainted with, but the RA and residence hall director still threatened to call the police on these student journalists.


""The charges don't make any sense,"" said Chapman. ""It seems like people in the Office of Judicial Affairs don't understand the First Amendment … It's kind of frustrating.""


If these Breeze writers obeyed the university hall resident manual, there is no reason why they should be punished for conducting interviews. They were within their rights as journalists, but for whatever reason, the RA didn't want any interviews going on in the hall. 


The RA shouldn't have been so concerned with Hibson interviewing residents inside the hall. These willing students made the adult choice to bring the reporter into the building, and RAs cannot possibly monitor every guest that enters the hall.


What do they do about random people who sneak inside just by luck? When going inside the hall, a resident can easily hold open the door for the person behind him. It's typical for strangers to find a way into the dormitories, especially during the daytime, yet RAs don't have the time to scope out every single intruder. This particular adviser sought to punish Hibson for something that happens on a regular basis. Unlike a lot of guests, however, Hibson made sure to be escorted by a resident at all times. Why was the RA so concerned about Hibson's presence? Hibson's Peeping Tom story wouldn't reflect well on the hall, that's for sure, and maybe the adviser was trying to save face for the hall by eliminating Hibson's news sources.


In the end, Hibson's story was told regardless of the RA's attempt to prevent hall interviews. The Daily News-Record mentioned the dorm's peeping Tom incident as well as Hibson's unfair charges.


This is what happens when the First Amendment right is violated and news is censored. Having reported many news stories on the recent massive Daily Wildcat newspaper theft, the Wildcat staff knows this all too well. Journalists will always find a way to share informative stories with the public, and for this, readers should be thankful.


From last month's chalking arrest and detainment to the Wildcat stolen papers to the University of Arizona Police Department almost not releasing the newspaper theft police records, the UA has dealt with a surge of unnecessary adversity in regard to free speech. The strikingly similar situation at James Madison University should serve as a warning to those who promote censorship: Reporters aren't going to put up with this kind of injustice. Here's to hoping journalists and others remain strong and defensive of their right to free speech.



Editorials are determined by the opinions board. They include Alex Dalenberg, Justyn Dillingham, Laura Donovan, Daniel Greenberg, Heather Price-Wright, Dan Sotelo, and Anna Swenson. 


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