The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

El Camino and the First Amendment

Fumie Coello | Special to The Union

Humanities 113 on the ground floor of the Humanities Building houses The Union newsroom. This is where the First Amendment publications of El Camino College are produced. 

It is a place of learning. 

On Thursday, Nov. 9, students who were there learned a valuable lesson about the journalism profession from an unlikely teacher, as their place of learning, which should be sacrosanct, was violated.

The lesson was on freedom of the press. 

The unwitting professor was Vice President of Administrative Services Robert Suppelsa.

The Warrior Life magazine class was in session when Suppelsa walked unannounced into the room and demanded that journalism professor Stefanie Frith take down photos accompanying an article about a commercial being filmed on campus. 

Chief Technology Officer Loic Audusseau accompanied Suppelsa.

Students were shocked, dismayed and scared as Suppelsa mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit and mentioned possible consequences for the journalism program’s budget.

Suppelsa said the photos could implicate a non-disclosure agreement between the production company shooting on campus and the corporation that hired them to film. He said this could lead to legal action against the paper. 

The Union had no prior knowledge of any agreement between the college or the companies.

Facility Rentals Director Bridget Delahunt echoed Suppelsa’s demand through an email sent to Frith the same day. 

The email also said The Union would need to ask Facility Rentals for written permission to publish stories concerning campus rentals moving forward.

This is unlawful prior review and it has no place in a functioning democracy. It certainly has no place in an institution of higher learning funded by American taxpayers.

In a letter written on behalf of the journalism students to El Camino President Brenda Thames, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression quoted from Healy v. James: “…the vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools.”

While The Union is alarmed by these attempts to curtail freedom of the press, we are more concerned about the culture on campus where the media is seen as the enemy. 

Journalism students have said they are treated “like a chore” by some members of the administration, staff and faculty. Some give students the runaround when they look for sources. Others utter “ugh” when The Union is mentioned.

This needs to change. 

The Union proposes a campus-wide training on how El Camino officials, faculty and staff work with the media.

The campus needs to know what we do so it can call us out when we’re not doing the right thing. 

Journalism students need your help. We are, first of all, students. We are getting training in El Camino on how to be members of the press who must speak truth to power.

Journalists in other parts of the world have died for this freedom. The Union, Warrior Life and the rest of the journalism department recognize this and take any suppression of freedom of the press seriously.

Thankfully, other El Camino administrators understand press rights. Vice President of Academic Affairs Carlos Lopez obliged when the journalism department asked for a meeting to address the issue.

The meeting included Suppelsa, Director of Public Information and Government Relations Kerri Webb, Mari Baquir from Civic Center Facility Rentals, The Union Editor-In-Chief Delfino Camacho, journalism professors Frith and Kate McLaughlin and instructional assistant Jessica Martinez.

Lopez and Webb reassured Camacho that journalism students’ fundamental rights to freedom of expression and of the press would not be violated.

These are good steps in rebuilding trust and mending the relationship. 

Suppelsa will revisit the newsroom Thursday. Dec. 7. The students are looking forward to this.

In the meeting with Lopez, Webb said “All of us here are educators,” to reassure journalism students that the college has their back and will not hinder their education.

While journalism students may not be educators, The Union hopes the El Camino community learns a thing or two from this incident. 

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