The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Tarnished story in a gilded age

Rachael Conlin Levy

Once upon a time, a long time ago, back in 1991, student leaders fired me as editor of my college newspaper on grounds of irresponsibility and bias.

I was a 20-year-old poor white girl raised in a rural northern Nevada town some called felony flats. I permed my hair, drove a VW Bug, and listened to R.E.M. I loved (in this order) the righteousness of a free press, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and my geeky boyfriend who spent too much time using his dial-up modem to connect to something called the internet.

As editor I was determined to publish a newspaper that informed and reflected the choices and challenges of the student body. I wanted to educate, entertain, enlighten, and even anger public opinion. I succeeded.

The Nevada Sagebrush is 125 years old. Today’s student journalists celebrated its longevity with an invitation to reminisce, which brought to mind lyrics by Seattle singer-songwriter Chris Staples whose work is a mixture of innocence and skepticism.

Do you want to resurrect some Golden Age
Do you sometimes wish you could turn back the page
Do you wanna, do you wanna

Memories might be entertaining, but rarely are they newsworthy. Only when the intersection of nostalgia and the future is made relevant to the present can the publication of memories be justified. With that intention and Staples’ lyrics as inspiration, I connect today to 27 years ago when the United States was fighting another war in the Middle East and a different U.S. Supreme Court nominee was accused of sexual harassment.

Sit down for a minute and concentrate
Be honest with yourself, it wasn’t all that great
Surely there was some shitty times
You can’t resuscitate

In 1991 I published reports of football players accused of yelling racial slurs at the marching band, ran opinion columns critical of the Greek system, and wrote editorials critical of ROTC and the military’s treatment of LGTBQ soldiers. As a staff, we changed the size of the paper from tabloid to broadsheet, and worked through the night to get the paper to press. Our editing was sloppy, the first few issues were delivered late, but we came out swinging. I no longer remember the particular story that triggered the firing, only that I was an unabashed young woman calling it as I saw it, and making a lot of men mad. Sound familiar?

Football players, frat boys, professors, and student leaders complained, and I underestimated their anger against the newspaper and their antipathy of me. The firing came with just a few hours’ warning, and occurred during a routine student board hearing before a hostile crowd.

I walked out, shocked. I cried. Then I fought back.

We reported the firing, publishing a story that pointed out that student leaders violated Nevada’s open meeting law when they failed to give adequate public notice of the planned action. The vote was invalid.

You don’t have to be angry
Turn it into something you can use

I returned to work, continuing to challenge and inform, to anger and entertain. As for those too incompetent to successfully fire me? They used Coffin and Keys, a secret student club that attracts misogynists, to denigrate and sexually harass me later that year.

And so a story from long ago becomes the news of today as attempts to silence bold women and men continue on campuses and around the country. When they strike you down — and they will and it will hurt — do not stay discouraged. Stand up once more and speak your mind.

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