It’s just nudity, don’t try to cover it up

The college campus: a place for exploration and freedom of thought. A test run for the “real world.” So the common understanding goes. It is hard to accept that any aspect of the higher education realm would be treated as anything less.

It is astonishing to believe, in this day and age when constitutional freedom is used in persuasive campaign slogans and catchy ads of patriotism, that a reputable North Carolina university would find itself embroiled in a case of old-fashioned repressive censorship.

But let’s take a few steps back first.

East Carolina University, located in Greenville, N.C., is home to the well-established collegiate newspaper, the East Carolinian (sound familiar?). It is also home to a vast student community and, of course, Saturday football games.

In fact, it was during one such game on Nov. 5 that a surprising addition was made to the line-up. During halftime ceremonies, John Sieglinger, a student at Wake Technical Community College, tore across Bagwell Field in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium — completely naked. What’s more, a picture of the incident was published in the East Carolinian the following week.

Yes, this certainly stimulated shock and awe. After all, public nudity is never seen with indifference.

However, the truly shocking piece of this story occurred after the initial fiasco, after Sieglinger’s detention, after the establishment of misdemeanor charges. For, after all was said and done in regards to punishment for the scandalous act, faculty adviser for the East Carolinian Paul Isom was told by ECU administrators to pack up his things and hit the road.

“They told me they wanted to go in a different direction,” Isom commented in an interview with the Daily Reflector. “They were very cautious not to give me a real reason.”

Call me brash, but this sudden decision to go in a “different direction” is quite the euphemism. More than likely, it is a not-so-stealthy way of reining in the newspaper’s freedom of speech, if for no other reason than to cover the administration’s collective hide and prevent any future embarrassment.

Since his firing, the issue of this being a violation of Isom’s first amendment rights has been heavily under question. Accordingly, ECU released a public statement in response to this speculation.

“The First Amendment demands public universities provide student journalists the opportunity to make their own news decisions and learn from them without interference. ECU puts that principle first. It has upheld it, especially in this instance,” said Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs.

In reading this statement, one question comes to mind. If ECU fully recognizes students as the decision-makers and holders of accountability, why is Isom now out of a job? The East Carolinian faculty adviser since 2008 and a veteran journalist, he undoubtedly deserves more respect than he is being given (not to mention his job).

As a college newspaper editor and writer myself, I would expect that administrators would defend my rights, as well as those of my colleagues and faculty adviser. Those rights undoubtedly include the right to free speech, something that is ingrained in my being as inherent.

Yes, one would think that a college campus would be the perfect place to exercise one’s first amendment freedoms, to explore one’s leadership abilities without running the risk of a slap on the hand at the first sign of impropriety.

Yet, though the nudity in the photo is virtually indiscernible by even the keenest eye, this exercise of first amendment rights has caused a true uproar.  Sure, you may deem the editorial decision in poor taste. But is it unlawful? Is it beyond the editorial board’s jurisdiction? Is it disrespectful?

No. It is a prime example of uncensored journalism, which, in case anyone has forgotten, still occupies a long-standing and comfy spot in that little document called the Constitution.