Student protesters at Smith College barred journalists from a sit-in on Wednesday that drew a crowd of hundreds unless they agreed to support the cause, reports The Republican, a newspaper in Springfield, Mass.
The sit-in was held in solidarity with protesters at the University of Missouri, who have for months spoken out against the treatment of black students on the campus, and who last week succeeded in forcing the resignations of the system’s president and the flagship campus’s chancellor.
Reporters planning to cover the sit-in arrived at the Massachusetts college’s student center on Wednesday only to find that the protesters intended to keep them out. Alyssa Mata-Flores, a Smith senior and a sit-in organizer, elaborated on the decision to The Republican: “We are asking that any journalists or press that cover our story participate and articulate their solidarity with black students and students of color. By taking a neutral stance, journalists and media are being complacent in our fight.”
Last week Missouri protesters sparked controversy by attempting to bar journalists from entering an area of the Columbia campus marked off as a “safe space.” Video of a confrontation between a journalist and protesters touched off a fierce debate about the First Amendment in the context of the recent protests, with activists arguing that they don’t trust journalists because, they say, reporters have done a poor job of covering marginalized communities.
Smith College backed the students’ demand, saying it had the right to remove journalists who didn’t comply because, unlike Missouri, it is a private college. The college’s director of media relations, Stacey Schmeidel, told the newspaper that Wednesday’s event was the first she knew of that barred reporters.
Updated (11/19/2015, 4:38 p.m.) to clarify a university spokeswoman’s statement. She said she believed the event was the first at Smith to bar reporters, not the largest.