As has been widely reported, over the past week lists of alleged sexual assailants have been written across girls’ bathrooms at Columbia University. The story was initially posted by the Columbia Lion on May 9. Yesterday morning, Bwog published the story, explaining that they had been receiving tips about it since May 7 but hesitated posting due to legal worries. Bwog was in contact with administrators and legal council about how to handle the list.
Yesterday morning, they decided to publish — but only after the story had spread around campus and been picked up by outside news outlets. As Bwog EIC Sarah Faith Thompson (full disclosure: I was EIC before her and yesterday was asked by other Bwoggers for advice on some of the matters discussed here) shot back at a questioning commenter, “[Bwog doesn’t] consider one list with blurred out names to be news. Lists going viral is news.”
However, this post was published without full approval from the board or staff of Bwog– it was written on a morning of finals week, after all. The post included one highly editorialized section:
“We are incredibly disturbed that people think this is a legitimate way to deal with the issue.”
Bwog does not typically include such editorializing, especially on a sensitive subject like this; it was a definitive break in voice. Shortly after noon, Anna Bahr, Barnard ’14 and author of The Blue and White Magazine articles which were posted on Bwog and set off the major public discourse on sexual assault at Columbia, wrote to Bwog editors in emails obtained by IvyGate to ask “why Bwog thinks it has the authority to gauge what constitutes a “legitimate” means of responding to and addressing assault.”
“Obviously you are the editorial board and you make these choices as you see fit, but, given that my name remains on the ‘Contributors’ masthead, I needed to express my discomfort with Bwog projecting its opinion, sans author’s signature [Bwog is typically not bylined], onto an article that should have been news and news alone.”
Bahr wrote over 300 words expressing her discomfort and confusion. In response, Thompson wrote 8 words and 1 abbreviation:
“I’ll remove your name from the masthead rn then”
[Update 4:15 pm Thompson reached out to tell us this was not the end of her and Bahr’s conversation — they went on to exchange more emails and speak over the phone. The initial response was written while Thompson was not at a computer and hadn’t read Bahr’s email comprehensively; she sincerely thought Bahr was asking to be taken off the masthead. Bahr’s name is still on the masthead today.]
Two hours later, Bwog added an update to the top of the original post:
*UPDATE 2:47pm* Bwog would like to apologize for stating that this is not a “legitimate” way to address the issue of sexual assault on campus.
An hour later, that update was gone in place of a more comprehensive one, explaining “that the following does not represent the opinion of the staff or the editorial board as a whole.”
Things would only get messier from there. As some commenters shouted on the original post (and many of these comments were deleted), Bwog had a conflict of interest in writing about this: one of the people named on the list was on the Bwog staff. In their article about the lists, Jezebel had noted that one of the names was of “a prominent writer for a campus publication.”
Complicating the situation, in the controversial final paragraph of the original post, Bwog linked to a Columbia Daily Spectator opinion piece urging the community to distance themselves from people they found out to be sexual assailants. In the comments, Thompson referred to that piece as indicative of her personal opinion. By doing so, Bwog would be implicated if they chose not to practice what they preached.
Finally, at 8:30 last night, Bwog published another article explaining their conflict of interest. After seeing the list, the board “asked this staffer to permanently and immediately resign from their position, and they agreed.” It’s not clear at what point in the last seven days this happened, or whether it was before or after publication of the first article about the lists.
The university issued a standard we’re-saying-something-but-not-saying-anything statement yesterday evening. This morning Bwog publisher Jake Hershman informed us that “Bwog won’t be giving any statements regarding the resignation of our staffer.” Thompson followed up that “we don’t really want to say anything at this point (not being shady, we’re just tired. we’ve turned down lots of these requests this morning so we’re just following the same policy we agreed to of letting the post speak for itself).” Looks like it’s due time for summer break.