This past week was unusual. We made the newspaper on Monday and Tuesday, and I wrote a midterm on Wednesday. On Thursday I handed in a paper, tracked the social media activity of a four-word joke article and Kate McInnes’ critique of the 5 Days for the Homeless campaign, then handed in another paper on Friday. Now that I think about it, since I pulled a few all-nighters anyway, I really should have brought some beer outside of Business and, you know, slept there with the 5D4H participants.
And after all that, we dealt with some absolutely obscene behaviour directed at Kate.
Upon seeing some responses to her article, it’s appropriate to remind readers what The Gateway is and what it isn’t.
The Gateway doesn’t exist to simply promote campus groups — it also exists to comment on student groups and campus generally. Nor is The Gateway a totalizing entity. The News section is separate from the Opinion section, which is separate from Arts and Sports, and all operate according to different rules. The ideas expressed in the Opinion section do not belong to the organization as a whole but to the individual writers. The News section must strive for balanced reporting. The Opinion section allows for individuals to argue subjective points.
This message is needed now because many seem to think that The Gateway is somehow against 5D4H or Business students.
Any initiative that raises $50,000 for charity probably has some good things going for it. But there are some problems with 5 Days for the Homeless.
Even though participants readily admit they aren’t pretending to be homeless by sleeping outside, sentimental YouTube videos show them, quite literally, pretending to be homeless. The homeless version of the character in this year’s video seems unintentionally absentminded, although it’s an improvement from last year in which some felt the need to represent an abusive household. It’s incredibly presumptuous to try and pass off an uninformed embodiment of homelessness and/or poverty as a realistic representation while occupying a position of privilege.
Regarding 5D4H’s educational aspect, it’s great that the public was offered talks from certain perspectives, but this is a university. There should have also been sociologists, historians and geographers, and there should have been readings. If education was 5D4H’s genuine concern, the entire concept of performing for charity a first-person immersion into a simulated reality in order to gain immediate, sensory experience wouldn’t go unchallenged.
The campaign needs a lot of work. Of course the social structures that make campaigns like this necessary in the first place won’t disappear next year, so from a purely practical perspective, 5D4H is good because it raises money for charity. But I wouldn’t be surprised if many people don’t support it because 5D4H seems unaware of how it presents itself.
Nor can I support the campaign that when presented with criticism, participants and supporters behave aggressively, attack the writer, accuse The Gateway of abusing its power and of violating journalistic integrity. Let’s have some self-control. Charity events aren’t immune to criticism by virtue of being charity events and campus media isn’t strictly a promotional tool. Apart from one mistake which we corrected, arguments that we misrepresented facts or direct quotes (which is different from interpreting them) are weak. People making such claims don’t seem to understand what journalistic integrity is or the permissible liberties of Opinion writing.
In an attempt to present both sides of the story, I reached out to Facebook commenter Daniel Roth who decided against publishing his counterargument of the original article in the Letters to the Editor section. On March 18, I reached out to 5D4H in the interest of providing them a chance to write an article and to explain our perspective off the record: they refused and didn’t want to talk at all about The Gateway. I emailed incoming BSA president Garrett Rokosh with an offer to write an article, which he rejected, then cc’d the eight 5D4H participants and told me “I urge you to not reach out to any other business students without the permission of these individuals.” I don’t know which individuals he’s referring to, but it would be strange if Rokosh meant the 5D4H participants.
All this is fine. If some want to be the “us” and contrive a “them” in an oppositional narrative, we don’t care. It’s not even as if The Gateway hasn’t outright promoted 5D4H before: we covered the event in our March 19, 2014 News section, we made a video and we wrote an article last year praising it.
5 Days for the Homeless would do well to accept criticism regardless of the tone in which it is presented. The campaign succeeds in raising money, but if education is a genuine goal, as opposed to immersive first-person experiences, a more effective means of informing the public and participants about homelessness might involve a lecture series and an interdisciplinary awareness week. The idea behind 5D4H is worthwhile but such a campaign needs to earn the respect of the wider campus community.
Another way for 5D4H participants to learn about homelessness would be to conduct research and interview students, social workers, professors and homeless individuals, then craft the information into articles.
And then we could publish them.