Racy editorial gets mixed reviews from campus community

When it comes to sex at Mount Royal University, some like it hot, and others really, really do not.

The Reflector is a student-run campus newspaper that, according to its website, strives to be the “independent voice of students at Mount Royal University.” This publication, which prints every two weeks, has a print circulation of approximately 10,000 and is available on and off the Mount Royal campus, as well as online.

Part of The Reflector’s funding comes from mandatory fees paid by students who attend the university.

Recently, a specific editorial column of theirs has been taking a lot of heat for what some say is crude sexual content.

Information not typical to most news sources – which come courtesy of a recent student poll – like Cleveland steamers, the term “spit on my ass” and fetish-inspired topics such as urination, appear in the early February edition.

The Feb. 2 sex column by Vanessa Gillard titled “An overview of love’s under view” has left some students and faculty in shock, while others think the article has created some great dialogue.The Reflectors door boasts an open invitation for students to “come on in,” yet no students have taken the time to bring their complaints directly to the newspaper or its publishers.
Photo by: Taryn Hajnrych

Kaylene McTavish, vice president of student life at the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University, says, “The student feedback has started a lot of conversation, and it’s really great to see students getting engaged.”

From the perspective of her position, McTavish says it is good for students to have a platform so that they can speak out against issues that they might not agree with.

She says that the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University tries hard to support all perspectives and to provide an atmosphere where all points of view are welcome.

“We try to foster an environment where students can have their own opinions, and that’s definitely represented,” she says. “If students want to speak out against it, there is a platform for them to do such.

“I just hope The Reflector takes feedback and listens to the student.”

‘Let’s talk it out’

 Vanessa Gillard and Reflector publishing editor Bryan Weismiller say they both stand behind the article 100 per cent.

Weismiller says in the days following the release of the publication, they received an abundance of feedback. Upon receipt of the first few letters to the editor, he says he met with Gillard to discuss the concerns they were hearing.

They came to a conclusion similar to that of McTavish’s, which is “students are talking, and that’s great.”

 “…It’s a student newspaper, not a university newspaper, and universities are meant to put out challenging ideas that some people agree with and some people don’t.”
— David Docherty,
President, Mount Royal University

“Their input is very valuable,” says Weismiller. “We encourage students to be engaged with what is going on around campus – it’s almost refreshing to see the students engaged in the way that they are.”

The Feb. 16 issue of The Reflector dedicated a two-page spread to publishing all the letters recieved over the article.

Gillard, who has been writing the sex column for over a year and half now, says she would welcome students with opposing opinions to come forward, whether it be for a discussion over coffee or an organized debate.

Weismiller agrees, saying: “We would be very happy to talk about it with students. There has been a lot of talk about the column, but unfortunately none of it has included us.”

The Reflector has posted an editorial, titled “Let’s talk it out” on their website, as well as thanking students for their feedback, and inviting them to come in and talk about any and all issues they may have with the paper.

Weismiller says they have always had an open-door policy, but is willing to meet with students anywhere that they feel most comfortable.

‘An alarming piece of journalism’

Some students are actively campaigning to raise awareness about what they believe to be poor journalism. They say there are many parts of the article – such a one comment making fun of incestuous relationships with an uncle – that cross a line.

Jenny Limoges, a fourth-year health-science student, says she believes the sex column is very offensive.Mount Royal University students Jenny Limoges (left) and Tara Dumont pose with the Feb. 2 edition of The Reflector. Both students find the content of the paper, as well as the cover photo, to be offensive and derogatory.
Photo by: Taryn Hajnrych

She says she was presented the paper in class as part of an assignment to rephrase one of the articles. Limoges chose the sex column thinking she could make it more scientific with her background in health studies.

What she found, she says, was not a sex column, but an alarming piece of journalism.

“It was the first sentence that caught me off guard, where she was addressing the students as ‘pussies, liars and cocky Casanovas’ and as I started reading through the questions asked and her responses, that’s what started the alarm.”

Chantelle Lemieux, also a fourth-year health-science student, says she was offended by the way the article was written.

“I feel that any article that is written by a student should be more intelligent-sounding,” says Lemieux. “She should be able to write an article that is well written, without having to make comments like that.”

Limoges, who has volunteered for the past two years in a family planning clinic, says: “With having a sex column, you have a huge opportunity to use it as a chance to educate and enlighten your readers.

“People want to know about STDs and STIs, what side effects you might have from taking pills, what it looks like when someone has herpes and how you can protect yourself from someone who has herpes.

“We can use this opportunity to spread awareness about healthy sexual relationships in a university setting,” she says.

Limoges and Lemieux say they feel the content of The Reflector misrepresents the student body of Mount Royal University, and the institution as a whole.

“This paper is being distributed around the community,” Limoges says. “I don’t want to be represented in this wash of students who have these types of views.”

Limoges says members of the school need to demand more accountability from students when it comes to issues that, she says, represent the reputation of the entire school.

Newspaper’s appropriate role

David Docherty, president of Mount Royal University, says he has received a variety of feedback from students and faculty, but not from the outside community.

Thus far, he says he feels the article has little impact outside of the student body.

“I don’t think at this stage it has had any effect on the reputation of the university,” he says. “It’s a student newspaper, not a university newspaper, and universities are meant to put out challenging ideas that some people agree with and some people don’t.”

Docherty says this should be a learning moment for students about what the appropriate role of a student paper should be.

“It should be a forum for debate,” he says. “Whether that’s in the newspaper, or here on campus in a room where people can go and listen.

“I would be happy to help out in putting that together.”

The Feb.16 edition of The Reflector has once again received negative, critical feedback based on its sex column. Online discussion has started, with students expressing displeasure with the content.

The door of The Reflector clearly displays the words “come on in.” Will students with opposing views take up the invitation and engage in debate, or will this continue to be a battle waged through print?

thajnrych@cjournal.ca