By Joe Kourieh
Two Gatepost editors were questioned by Campus Police on Saturday, Nov. 8 and Monday, Nov. 10 regarding the contents of a news article and an opinion piece published Nov. 7.
Both pieces addressed a photo of controversial Halloween costumes worn by two FSU students allegedly depicting an abusive couple.
Arts and Features Editor Sara Silvestro, who was off campus for the weekend, said she received a phone call on Saturday from FSU Campus Police Officer Kate Gagnon, who asked about “the article with the Instagram photo in it.” Silvestro said she had seen the photo through its circulation on social media, and added that she had written an opinion piece on the topic but did not write the news article. She said she suggested Gagnon should speak with the editor-in-chief instead.
After Silvestro confirmed that she knew and had spoken to the male student in the photo, Gagnon allegedly asked whether Silvestro had told him she was not going to write an article about the incident for the newspaper. Silvestro explained that she had told him she did not write or make any decisions regarding the news article, but had decided to write an opinion piece related to the incident.
According to Silvestro, Gagnon told her that the two students in the Instagram photo were being bullied on campus. Silvestro said the officer questioned her about her intention in writing the concluding paragraph of her piece, which asks “where these young students’ minds were.
“I don’t know their pasts. I don’t want to call them names and be hateful. That is not my point,” Silvestro wrote in her op/ed. “I would like students, parents, faculty, anyone and everyone to think about their actions and words before they act – to think about their comments in defense of an offensive insensitive photo, and to think about their words, comments and actions around others.”
Silvestro said she told Gagnon that she stood by her piece and “used this incident as a lesson to others to be aware of their comments and actions.” She then repeated that Gagnon should be discussing the matter with Editor-in-Chief Kaila Braley, and the conversation ended.
Later that day, Braley returned a voicemail from Gagnon, in which Gagnon had said she needed to “touch base about a few things that have occurred this week.”
Braley, who was also off campus for the weekend, agreed to meet with Gagnon when she returned to FSU on Monday, and asked if Gagnon could indicate what the meeting was about. Gagnon responded that she could not say because the phone call was being recorded, but said it was about information that had not been included in the news article Braley wrote, and some information that was possibly misleading, according to Braley.
According to Braley, during the meeting on Monday, Gagnon asked her if she had been contacted by the mother of the female student in the Instagram photo. Braley replied that she had. Braley said Gagnon then asked why she had not included information she was given by the student’s mother. Braley replied that the mother had asked to remain off the record – therefore, no information she provided could be included in the article as there was no one to whom it could be attributed. Gagnon replied that the information provided by the student’s mother “would have changed the tone of the article,” but that Gagnon “knows it’s our right to make those choices,” according to Braley.
Braley asked if the student’s mother had complained about the news article, and Gagnon replied, “Not specifically about the article,” according to Braley.
At the end of the meeting, Braley asked on what grounds campus police had questioned Silvestro about her opinion piece. According to Braley, Gagnon replied that she could not talk about an ongoing investigation.
According to the Student Press Law Center’s website, school officials cannot “discipline staK members [of student newspapers] or take any other action that is motivated by an attempt to control, manipulate or punish past or future content.”
SPLC Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein said it is illegal for school officials to attempt to censor or influence content that does not present any criminal threat. He added that a newspaper article or opinion piece cannot be considered as targeting or bullying individuals who are not specifically named and threatened.
Executive Vice President Dale Hamel, who oversees Campus Police, said he was not involved in the investigation at the time. However, he said that, had he been involved, he would not have given any directions to Campus Police because “it is their prerogative to lead their own investigation.”
He added that he believes the questioning of Gatepost editors was most likely about confirming facts.
University President F. Javier Cevallos confirmed that the administration understands the legal rights of student journalists.
“Certainly, if the police interviewed [Gatepost staff] about an article and its content, it’s not appropriate,” he said, adding that it may have been a mistake by the investigating officers because of their ongoing investigation of bullying, and because their “training is an ongoing aspect.”
When asked what action the administration would take if this type of behavior by campus police occurred again, Cevallos said that “every case is different,” but added, “Campus Police has a very important role” but the officers should “never be involved in judging the content [of a newspaper] unless it is something that is threatening to the community.
“It is a learning opportunity in many ways,” Cevallos said, noting that “freedom of expression is one of the things that we cherish in this nation more than anything else.”
Campus Police Chief Brad Medeiros did not respond to multiple requests to comment or be interviewed about these incidents.