Student Life

Sifting through the archives: Satire gone sour

Exploring freedom of speech and censorship within Concordia

As academics, journalists and curators of the public sphere, knowing when to stand by your work is as important as being accountable for it. Journalists in particular carry the responsibility of disseminating information, and, as a result, are rightfully held under constant scrutiny for the content they publish. The same goes for The Concordian, where, throughout its existence, there have been a few instances of backlash to content we’ve published.

Throughout the mid-90s, The Other Side was a column frequently published in The Concordian by then-journalism student, Elena McLeod. On Nov. 2 1994, the column featured a satirical article written by Mark Rollins, an alias adopted by McLeod, taking on the perspective of sexist male-chauvinists she frequently encountered on campus.

McLeod’s column was raunchy yet progressive when you read between the lines, at least for the mid-90s. It opens with: “I love breasts… Breasts of all dimensions, colour and texture. I love ‘em if they salute the sun or kiss the ground… I’m not ashamed to admit that hooters preoccupy my thoughts 24 hours a day,” writes Rollins. The column goes on to reference a GUESS ad: “[…] everytime I saw Anna Nicole Smith hawking Guess Jeans [sic], I’d blow my load… I swear, these ads should come with a handy Kleenex dispenser,” writes Rollins.

Satire, when done correctly, can be a great way to comment on complex issues by poignantly revealing the power dynamics behind the story. In The Other Side, satire was used as a way to reveal how ludicrous the hypersexualization of the female body and conforming to the male gaze is. McLeod, a.k.a. Rollins, sought to comment on this hypersexualization by using nearly every ‘locker-room’ way of talking about breasts, to the extent that it could not be anything but satire.

The Other Side was a satire column that frequently appeared in what was then called the Arts and Culture section of The Concordian in 1994. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

However, satires can often miss their intended mark, whatever that may be. Think back to 2015, when The Beaverton published and quickly retracted their absolutely appalling article after Ashley Callingbull, from the Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta, won Mrs. Universe. The Beaverton published a headline that, as they later stated in their apology, was meant to “call out the media for their failure to properly cover missing and murdered [Indigenous] women.” However, while some say they understood the twisted truth behind the headline, many, including some Indigenous advocates, did not see the humour or value in publishing such a serious topic under the guise of humour. When satires aren’t published in complete distaste, they can often be interpreted literally, which leads to a separate slew of issues.

As one could imagine, not every student on campus understood that The Other Side was a satire. The article’s literal interpretation incited a massive backlash from the student body, and by the following week’s issue on Nov. 9, The Concordian had received heaps of phone messages, letters and faxes (yes, faxes) from enraged students denouncing both the publication and Rollins/McLeod.

Most of these comments were published in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section, next to a column where McLeod came out as Rollins. On Nov. 16, two weeks after the satire column hit print, and a week after McLeod claimed Rollins’ identity, there was still so much continued backlash from the student body, now enraged at McLeod for publishing the column to begin with.

In lieu of all the backlash, McLeod sat down for an interview with Samaana Siddiqui, then-staff writer from The Concordian, to continue to explain that her intent was to generate a public discussion about the hypersexualization of the female body in a way that was not “shoving women’s issues down people’s throats,” said McLeod. However, for many readers, McLeod’s goals in writing the article did not justify the alleged sexism present in the piece that appeared without context, writes Siddiqui.

The Concordian has been telling your stories since 1983. A photo of the archives room in our Loyola office. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

The inclusion of McLeod’s article in a student-funded publication then became a debate between free speech and censorship, generating even more letters to the editor, all continuing to denounce The Concordiansome personally attacking McLeod and her sexuality.

According to Siddiqui, a student-run protest was meant to gather outside of The Concordian’s office to demand the return of their levy fees, though the rally never happened. Many Concordia affiliated groups such as the Women’s Centre and the Quebec Public Interest Group circulated a letter to The Concordian’s ad sponsors, encouraging them to sever their partnerships, according to Siddiqui.

The backlash created so many ripple effects, bordering industry blacklisting, that then-Editor-in-Chief Daniel Nemiroff published an editorial on Nov. 23 supporting McLeod and her piece. “If it will help the offended for me to express regret, I’m willing to weep with you,” writes Nemiroff. “I will not, however…censor young writers, or curtail freedom of expression.”

Journalists are held to high standards for their content, and are constantly faced with the threat of backlash, which is all the more immediate given the advent of social media. This scrutiny is completely necessary, which makes finding a suitable balance between validating the opinions of readers and supporting the freedom of expression for writers highly contextual.

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins


The past, the present and the press

This year marks the 35th anniversary of The Concordian newspaper. In those 35 years, the student-run newspaper has undergone major shifts—just like any form of media. We believe that at any point in time, the media reflects the values of the society it thrives in. They say history is written by the victors (read: oppressors?), and what is the press but a first draft of the history books. With this in mind, we can appreciate that the voices highlighted in a newspaper in 1983 were much different from those that find space in a newspaper today. But that isn’t to say both newspapers, at both moments in time, weren’t important.

A university is home to diverse voices and ideas, and therefore, should support a platform where all of these unique perspectives can be heard. While a student newspaper doesn’t necessarily give every person a voice, it certainly helps recognize our collective ideas as we elevate even the voices pushed to the margins. We at The Concordian are proud to use our tools and platform to shed light on important issues that make up Concordia University.

A look through our archives shows that even in the year 1990, the idea of women walking home at night and their safety was a concern. Even though, with the recent #MeToo movement, it might seem like this is a conversation we’re only beginning to have, it’s safe to say this issue has been present for years—centuries, actually. Other stories in past issues of The Concordian emphasized gun control laws in Canada and the mistreatment of marginalized groups by law enforcement.

In 2018, these issues are still at the forefront of our minds. The news constantly reiterates these concerns, and rightfully so. But it’s both troubling and refreshing to learn that these same issues were being highlighted in our newspaper three decades ago. Troubling because these problems are still so ever-present; refreshing because we’re glad these stories were given a platform in our newspaper.

That’s not to say The Concordian has always been a place for pieces that empower voices and highlight necessary topics. Just like other media throughout the ages, its content is a reflection of the time and place in which it exists. It is undeniable that the voices and stories of many have long been silenced—and are still being ignored—by the bulk of mainstream news and entertainment outlets. Since minority experiences were (and are) often seen as inferior to those of the social majority, news outlets reacted accordingly. The sentiment of “give the people what they want” was solidified in our history.

Here at The Concordian, we do not deny our part in perpetuating harmful narratives in past years. However, as much as we work to adapt to changing social norms and values, we also aim to maintain ideals of inclusivity, respect and honour. Every week, we work to produce content that is representative of what matters to students at Concordia. As we begin this new year, we’d like to thank our fellow students for supporting our endeavours, and for allowing us to tell your stories. We love hearing from you, so please do not hesitate to reach out. Our hope is that somewhere amongst our pages, you find something you can identify with.

Concordia’s first official mascot, “The Stinger”. Archive photo by Jonas Papaurelis.


Saying ‘yes’ to student press

Some of you may have heard about the recent existence referendum held at McGill University to decide whether or not The McGill Daily and Le Délit—McGill’s only francophone newspaper—should continue to publish on campus.

McGill students could cast their vote between Nov. 13 and 16. According to Inori Roy, the coordinating editor at The McGill Daily, just over 64 per cent of the university’s undergraduate and graduate students voted in favour of keeping the newspapers running. Just under 36 per cent voted “no.”

Needless to say, we at The Concordian were very pleased to learn that these newspapers will be staying on campus. We would like to take it as a sign that the student press is still valued. In an interview with Roy, we learned more about the referendum and the power of the student press.

According to Roy, the existence referendum is a normal occurrence that happens every five years. The process indicates to the administration that the newspapers still have the student body’s support before the university renegotiates its agreement with the publications to allow them to collect fees from students, rent space on campus and distribute newspapers at McGill.

The two newspapers that were part of the referendum are published under the Daily Publications Society (DPS), a student-run organization at McGill. “The DPS wanted to keep us alive,” Roy said. “Besides the ‘No’ campaign, there was no one who particularly wanted us to shut down.” According to Roy, many of the issues put forward by the ‘No’ campaign “were founded on misinformation and lies, and so they had issues with our editorial line.”

The McGill Daily, which has existed since 1911, has a mandate to publish anti-oppression and anti-racist articles that might not be covered by mainstream media, Roy said. By publishing such pieces, the publication’s staff hope to give a voice to marginalized students on campus.

Despite the referendum result and high voter turnout, there is still work to be done to increase student engagement and interest in on-campus publications. It is important to remember that the student press not only informs readers about campus news and gives students a space to freely express themselves—it also holds universities accountable.
Our thoughts are mirrored by Roy. “We often write stories about things that are happening in student governments that otherwise wouldn’t get out,” she said. “I think we provide a better service in openly criticizing and being aware of the mistakes the administration is making and trying to provide them with this insight on what students need. So I think the integrity of student governments and administrative action would be severely compromised if we ceased to exist.”

As McGill’s existence referendum also highlights, student engagement is the driving force behind the student press. We at The Concordian strive to continuously publish stories that are interesting and important, to keep our readers informed and involved in campus life, and to help students improve their writing skills and express themselves. We are also grateful to every student, faculty and staff member who take the time to pick up a copy of our newspaper. Thank you for reading.

We at The Concordian would like to congratulate The McGill Daily and Le Délit for being able to continue doing what they do best for the next five years. We hope they continue to shed light on the stories that deserve to be told and encourage the students who want to write them.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


A referendum is on its way

Graphic courtesy of The McGill Daily and Le Délit

The McGill Daily and Le Délit face a referendum that will determine the continued existence of their publications this week, in order to negotiate a contract with the university.

In accordance with the policy of McGill University’s administration, a new Memoranda of Agreement is arranged with independent student associations every five years.

However, in order for a newly negotiated MoA to move forward, a referendum is being held from Jan. 23 to 31. The Daily Publication Society, The Daily and Le Délit’s umbrella association, must prove it has continued support from the university’s student body before arranging a contract with administration.

These renewed agreements enable the DPS to collect student fees that allow for allotted leases, printing costs and distribution of the two papers.

Therefore, both newspapers require a majority of students to vote in support of their continued publication or else they will cease to exist. If the referendum fails, then McGill will terminate the fee-levy of $6 paid by undergraduate students per semester and the $3.35 contributed by graduate students. As part of the agreement, the current fee is binding.

In 2011, McGill’s campus radio station CKUT held its referendum in conjunction with the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at the university where approximately 5,245 students participated with overwhelming support in favour of continued existence. McGill invalidated the results however, forcing the associations to conduct another election. CKUT also recently held a referendum in November 2012 to increase its fee-levy and won.

These set votes can be a source of stress for student associations on campus.

“It takes months of planning and so much time,” said Queen Arsem-O’Malley, the co-ordinating editor of The Daily. “It’s not like it’s really necessary, there are other ways for students to keep us accountable.”

Concordia University does not have the same terms of agreement with its student media associations and CJLO, Concordia University Television, The Concordian and The Link are not required to hold referendums.

Individuals who are eligible to vote must be undergraduate or graduate students at the downtown campus with the exception of continuing education students, non-resident graduate students and graduate students who are enrolled in medicine or dentistry.

McGill undergraduate student Eric Pagé, who does not read either publication on a regular basis, said he was not aware of the referendum until he checked Facebook. Pagé said that his classes are not in the heavily trafficked buildings at the university but that if he has time to vote, he will.

“I’ll be voting in favour of The McGill Daily if I do go because I’m sure it benefits students,” said Pagé. “As well as gives the authors good practice for prospective future employment.”

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