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DEI Squelches Student Reporting at Yale, Penn

A new generation of reporters is taught that censorship imposed by diversity committees is more important than objective reporting of facts

Sahar Tartak
January 17, 2024



The University of Pennsylvania’s oldest independent student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, has a proud history of reportorial excellence, sending its graduates to work at many once-storied American newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. The writer Buzz Bissinger, winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for reporting and author of Friday Night Lights, is a Daily alumnus, as is the novelist Erik Larsen. Other alumni include U.S. senators and members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is hard to say that fact-based reporting remains the student paper’s main preoccupation, though. In April, The Daily Pennsylvanian welcomed its third-ever class of DP fellows who bring their unique backgrounds to their work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion” at the paper. The fellows will enjoy stipends, matched alumni mentors, regular group meetings, and a professional development conference, participating in a program created by the paper to “engage and support students from historically marginalized groups” interested in various relevant fields. DP’s hope is to “create an inclusive culture within the company and in the coverage of the Penn community.”

The Daily Pennsylvanian’s “community guide” has a small section committed to editorial ethics—which makes mention of diverse backgrounds—followed by a much larger section on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The DEI section boasts of a diversity and inclusion coordinator on its board, a diversity committee, affinity groups for Black, LGBTQ+, and multiracial staffers, a regularly published demographic survey, and even a diversity style guide, “which dictates the language we use to refer to marginalized communities.”

The premise of these DEI initiatives is that certain demographic groups have been and continue to be oppressed by societal structures, and inequalities experienced by these groups can be explained by that oppression. This inequality is now embedded within society, and reparatory policies such as affirmative action are necessary for change. Therefore, even campus newspapers must enact reparatory policies themselves, focusing on coverage that favors oppressed groups or a staff makeup that represents oppressed groups rather than focusing on quality or objectivity. This is reflected in the funneling of resources toward initiatives for certain demographic groups or changes in how reporters write about these groups.

Penn is not alone in reshaping the journalistic framework on college campuses away from incubating objective reporting practices toward exercising sensitivity for select identity groups in line with the demands of DEI bureaucrats—precipitating a sea change in the nature and practice of campus journalism which seems likely to accelerate changes in the wider journalistic world. In 2016, the 139th editorial board of the flagship Yale Daily News (YDN) listed its “top priority” as fostering diversity and inclusivity. The 141st editorial board then promised to “deepen our commitment to diversity and inclusion through both formal mechanisms and informal attitudes.”

Unsurprisingly, student journalists began to rethink their vocation as journalists, to bring their practices in line with the demands of DEI advocacy. In 2015, the YDN called on the university to issue a formal response to “two major racially charged controversies,” including an email sent out by administrator Erika Christakis. In the wake of a university email sent to students about offensive Halloween costumes, Christakis told her students that they should be deciding social norms among themselves through dialogue rather than top-down administrative guidelines. Her email sparked outrage on campus, but the university lagged in its response to the controversy. The YDN compared the situation to a swastika drawn on campus, which received swift condemnation, adding “the same truth applies today.”

Yet despite these efforts, the YDN, which today publishes the full demographic data of its staff, wrote in 2018 that it has a “diversity problem,” understanding from a “glance at the photographs of each of our editorial boards that they are similarly dismal.” The campus paper’s coverage of the Christakis’ Halloween email and other controversies “alienated” communities of color. “Our editorial board is, as we should be, even further ashamed,” the paper’s self-flagellating editors proclaimed, by its majority white composition, not to mention household incomes in the $250,000 to $500,000 range.

The Yale Daily News promised to do better. In 2020, YDN expressed “solidarity with the protestors and activists who are fighting to dismantle systemic racism in America,” urging readers to listen to Black voices, actively fight against racism, sign petitions, and donate to the cause, while the YDN committed itself to producing content that “uplifts communities of color.”

It is hard to say that fact-based reporting remains the student paper’s main preoccupation.

Which brings us to Oct. 7. As a student at Yale, I returned to campus after the massacres to find my peers shouting “resistance is justified” in the hundreds. An officially sanctioned campus organization called Yalies4Palestine (Y4P) held “the Israeli Zionist regime responsible for the unfolding violence” and called on the Yale community “to celebrate the resistance’s success.” The group stated that “breaking out of a prison requires force,” standing in “full support of the Palestinian people’s right to resist colonization and return to their land.”

I read over these terrifying statements and quickly turned around an op-ed for The Yale Daily News calling Y4P a hate group for its open support of terror. The kangaroo court editorial process my commentary was subjected to was predictably absurd. I was asked to clearly define the terms “hate group” and “terror,” which I did. I was then told that the piece would not run for fear of “violence” and “harm” it may pose to students.

Eventually, the piece did run, but the editorial process did not end there. On Oct. 25, a correction was appended to the article without my knowledge: “Editor’s note, correction, Oct. 25: This column has been edited to remove unsubstantiated claims that Hamas raped women and beheaded men.” Another piece received a similar correction on Oct. 26: “This column has been edited to remove unsubstantiated claims of rape.”

When I contacted the editor-in-chief, I was told that at the time my piece was published, “there was swirling unsubstantiation [sic] of the rape and beheading claims” even though international reporters were on the ground in Israel well before my piece was published to chronicle the atrocities, and had repeatedly verified claims of atrocities, including rape—which have unfortunately also been verified many dozens of times since. Of course all this verification was besides the point, since the Hamas terrorists had already gleefully verified these accounts.

Under public pressure, the YDN then returned my article to its original form—or so I thought. It turned out that the paper had also changed the language that Hamas was “intent” on killing as many Jews as possible to Hamas “seemed intent,” because impugning murderous intentions onto Hamas was a step too far for the YDN. Upon my request, the editors quietly changed the language back. In a response to my piece, a Yale alumnus wrote in to deny outright that Hamas cut babies out of pregnant women, even though Orit Sulitzeanu, the executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, has stated that this took place—a claim that has been corroborated by Michal Herzog, Israel’s first lady.

I tell this story here not because it is egregious, but precisely because it is normal. Campus papers that view Palestinians as the oppressed and Jews as colonial oppressors in a DEI framework cannot adequately cover atrocities committed against Jews by Palestinians. Reporting that disfavors Palestinians allegedly harms a marginalized group, which campus papers have promised not to do. Rather, they have promised to uplift marginalized groups and tell their stories, using the words of the oppressed themselves. What this story demonstrates is that intersectionality is real—meaning that the political do’s and don’ts created by campus papers like the YDN and DP, beginning with their adoption of diversity campaigns and their corresponding ideologies, have turned these institutions against Jewish students and into mouthpieces for progressive ideologues that propagate overt biases in favor of Hamas and against the victims of Hamas’ atrocities.

The reaction from my peers, who are being incubated in the hothouse intersectional progressive atmosphere that dominates one of the country’s wealthiest universities, was predictably negative—toward me, for practicing journalism. “Going on fox news to defend your little ydn piece when it’s not even written well. Like, try to be expressive or whatever, but you’re no maya angelou [sic],” went one popular post on an anonymous Yale forum. Fellow students repeatedly brought up death threats supposedly received by The Yale Daily News’ editor, making her out to be the victim of murderous Jews and their supporters—incited by me. Making The Yale Daily News’ editor the victim served not just to erase what I went through, but far more significantly, the fate of over 1,500 Israelis murdered, raped, and kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7. Claiming victim status for repeated acts of editorial malpractice was a way of erasing the real victims, whose horrific fates did not fit with Yale’s officially sanctioned hierarchy of victimhood.

Oh, and the editor responsible for this mess? An “inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion co-chair” at The Yale Daily News, of course.

Which brings us back to The Daily Pennsylvanian. Penn alumnus Jonathan Brolin submitted a piece to the paper, in which he criticized Penn President Liz Magill for her use of the nebulous term “Palestine,” despite institutional precedent referring to “Gaza” and “the West Bank.” He urged the university to “bridge the divide” between students who support Palestinian statehood and who support Israel, since “Hamas is their mutual enemy.” Outlining Israel’s numerous attempts at a two-state solution and subsequent Palestinian rejections, he exposed false claims made by a student organization called Penn Against the Occupation that Israel is a genocidal occupier and an apartheid state. Hamas, Brolin noted, commits actual acts of genocide. He also questioned Penn’s acceptance of donations from Qatari sources.

Brolin’s piece was thorough and well-substantiated—and was submitted as an opinion column. Yet the DP, after 10 days of back and forth with multiple editorial staffers, declined to publish the column. While the paper had quoted Penn Against the Occupation in reported articles without checking their claims against objective sources, the paper’s diversity and inclusion team blocked facts countering PAO—and asked Brolin for a source that proved that Hamas had killed over 1,400 Israelis. Finally, the piece was rejected on the basis that its central argument was not original enough, even though at least five of his main claims can be found nowhere else in the DP.

The process at work here is again worth a closer look, in order to understand what the next generation of American journalism will look like. The paper’s opinion editor had previously told Brolin that the paper needed something like his column to show the other side. But given “sensitive” subjects in the column, it needed to be viewed by yet another editor with sensitivity training—a type of review that has become all but mandatory at many student papers, and which hands ultimate editorial authority over to political activists who understand their role to be enforcement of the intersectional progressive party line. The sensitivity editor’s suggested counterpoints included those of a U.N. employee, who accused Israel of ethnic cleansing.

Putting DEI regimes that view the world in terms of an oppressor-oppressed dichotomy in charge of student journalism, in a system in which student DEI enforcers take their cues from adult bureaucrats, was bound to reach new lows in the wake of Oct. 7, an event that normalized open Jew-hatred on college campuses and in major cities across America. The Yale Daily News and Daily Pennsylvanian are not the exceptions. They are the rule, in a society in which institutions are expected to move in lockstep with the progressive consensus, which had plainly declared Jews to be “white people” and therefore “oppressors.”

Claiming victim status for repeated acts of editorial malpractice was a way of erasing the real victims, whose horrific fates did not fit with Yale’s officially sanctioned hierarchy of victimhood.

Last year, for example, the editorial board of The Harvard Crimson published an article titled “In Support of Boycott, Divest, Sanctions and a Free Palestine,” identifying Palestinians as victims of Israeli “crimes against humanity” and Palestinian supporters as victims of professional blacklisting and accusations of antisemitism. “When oppression strikes anywhere in the world, resistance movements reverberate globally,” wrote the board, identifying “the overwhelming power imbalance that defines and constricts the overall debate.”

Think for a moment about how ridiculous this language is. It promotes a unified, global struggle against Israel by unrelated actors and frames Israel as the ultimate oppressor, while Palestians are the innocent, oppressed underdog. It is hard to imagine an official statement from Hamas or Hezbollah or al-Qaida sounding much different. That parents are paying $75,000 and up to send their children to revolutionary reeducation camps being run under the guise of the country’s most prestigious academic institutions would simply be bizarre, if those institutions were not also producing the country’s future leaders and journalists.

If you attempt to practice journalism while Jewish on one of these campuses, your situation is even more mind-bendingly strange and unpleasant. Here at Yale, my peers and I are disparagingly called “Zionist liars” with “proximity to whiteness” by classmates on social media who cannot see—or so I like to think—that their words are code for “powerful Jew.” We cannot avoid the genocidal calls of “from the river to the sea,” “globalize the intifada,” and “resistance is justified,” disrupting classes and walkways, or the young, would-be diversity commissars mobbing students and yelling “shame.”

Anti-Jewish student groups, in their occupation of spaces on campus, remind Jewish students that, unless we are willing to grovel before people who want us dead and say Kaddish for Palestinians (this has happened multiple times at Princeton) and deny our own right to exist by rejecting Israel’s self-defense, then the campus is simply not our turf. Jews are not part of the Ivy League’s splendid diversity. We are its enemy, simply by existing.

Jewish students are faced with an atmosphere of overwhelming rejection and hatred, which is not all that different from the extreme forms of antisemitism that Jewish students were subjected to in 20th-century Vienna or Warsaw or Cairo (so often accompanied by versions of the cry “go back to Israel”). To avoid the hostilities, they have receded exclusively into Jewish centers, except for when students threaten to shoot them up—which happened a few months ago at Cornell.

Hiding accomplishes nothing for us, though. If we succumb to the threats of the mob, they will only become stronger. We must first recognize that the threat exists, and that we are not included in the revolutionary promises of the diversity bureaucracy. Instead, we are its enemy. That recognition hurts. Yet without it, the mob will win. And then we will have nowhere left to hide.

Sahar Tartak is a sophomore at Yale studying History. She serves on Chabad at Yale’s student board and as Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Free Press. Follow Sahar on X, where she documents antisemitism at Yale.