Letter from the Board: Loyola’s treatment of student reporter is shameful

Loyola University is punishing a student journalist. Their offense: legally and ethically reporting a story. 

Kloe Witt, a reporter for the Loyola Maroon, was charged with unauthorized recording and falsification or misuse of university records after The Maroon published a story last month about a student who was arrested and charged with stalking on Loyola’s campus. 

According to The Maroon, Loyola University Police told a Maroon editor to send a reporter to the police station to learn more about the arrest. Witt went to the police station and found the doors locked. After ringing the doorbell, an officer invited her in, and she identified herself as a Maroon reporter. 

Marquita Morgan-Jones, assistant director for residential community standards at Loyola, arrived shortly thereafter. Witt took out her phone and began visibly recording the conversation as a second officer briefed Witt and Morgan-Jones. 

Witt asked the officer if they could see the arrest record, upon which the officer offered to give Witt a copy of documents related to the case. Then, Morgan-Jones confronted Witt, asked their identity and when she learned Witt was a Maroon reporter, demanded they hand over all documents and leave. 

Witt’s story on the case appeared online the same evening, March 2.

Eleven days later, Witt received disciplinary charges from Loyola. The falsification charge was later dropped, but Witt was found responsible for unauthorized recording, a charge she is currently appealing. 

Loyola’s Student Code of Conduct defines unauthorized recording as “any unauthorized use of electronic or other devices to make an audio or video still frame or photographic record of any person without their prior knowledge or without their effective consent when the person or persons being recorded have a reasonable expectation of privacy and/or such recording is likely to cause injury or distress.”

Witt did nothing wrong — they recorded openly and immediately identified themself as a journalist. Police officers and university officials cannot and must not expect privacy in such a setting. 

Witt was invited into the police station to fulfill a journalistic duty: to shine light and share the truth with Loyola University’s community. A fellow student was arrested, and other students deserved to understand the details of the case. It is reprehensible that the school would expect privacy here. But it is abhorrent that they would resort to punishment when their unreasonable expectation was not granted. 

It is also worth mentioning that Morgan-Jones, the residential life representative, holds a position as a hearing officer in Loyola’s Office of Student Conduct. Morgan-Jones was also the primary witness against Witt. Witt maintains that Morgan-Jones’s holding of both these roles presents a clear conflict of interest, which Loyola’s Code of Conduct prohibits.

What exactly does Loyola think Witt did wrong? Not only did Loyola University Police willingly grant Witt access to the office and the case’s relevant documents, but the case at hand pertained to a student committing a crime, not university actions. Loyola’s response seems excessive and unnecessary. 

Why did administrators immediately resort to punishment and control over the student press? Loyola has not answered these questions — they have not responded to requests for comment, according to The Maroon. In absence of explanation, it appears as only this: an alarmingly impulsive step to control student media. 

Press freedom is an essential part of democracy. Local news has never been under greater threat. And the most local of news — student newspapers — provide a vital role to students everywhere by chronicling their campuses for the good and the bad. These rights must be protected. 

Loyola’s actions drew criticism from students and journalists around the region. Louisiana State University’s student newspaper, The Reveille, published an editorial condemning Loyola this week. Scott Sternberg, a local First Amendment attorney, took to Twitter in support of The Maroon. 

“For shame,” Sternberg wrote. “@LoyolaNOLANews — I thought better of you.” 

“We’re appalled to see another university attempting to discipline a student reporter for providing coverage to her community,” The Reveille Editorial Board wrote

FIRE, a campus free advocacy group, called the move a suppression of free press and said it would watch Witt’s appeal closely. 

Loyola has a storied journalism program, but the university’s recent actions are shameful and careless. The Tulane Hullabaloo is appalled that a fellow student journalist is facing discipline for simply doing their job. Witt’s remaining charge should be dropped; campus leaders should look to their own students and staff and apologize for their shameful attempt to control the press.

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