I almost quit The Sun two years ago. I was working on a story about Daniel Marshall ’15, who had organized several protests against a $350 health services fee that Cornell sprang on students in spring 2015. That same semester, CUPD began conducting a “criminal investigation” against Daniel and several other student activists; a CUPD investigator questioned Daniel about the protests and, when Daniel declined to answer, threatened him with felony charges.
I’m no longer a reporter for The Sun, so, luckily, I don’t have to be “objective” anymore: this is a clear case of CUPD intimidating students in order to silence political protest and punish students for doing it. Yet, as frustrated with Cornell as I was over this, I was even more upset at my editors, who stopped this story from running for several days. I remember sitting in the newsroom, being told that “this wasn’t really a story,” and fighting an immense disgust for this paper and my urge to leave and never come back.
But, I stayed. Though in the end I managed to publish this story, sometimes I look back and wish I had left. The Sun is a demanding institution, and I sacrificed a lot to be a part of it, all the while wondering whether I was doing any good. Other times, I look back and remember that, after the story was published, CUPD didn’t file any charges against Daniel and eventually stopped the criminal investigation. And I contrast this story with a more recent one: this semester, Mitch McBride ’17 was accused of violating the Campus Code of Conduct for leaking documents to The Sun. This time around, no editor tried to shut down the story, and The Sun’s coverage was extensive and quick. I think that the significant public support that Mitch received before his hearing (which would ultimately clear him of the charges) was in part due to how well The Sun reported on the issue.
When I think about how differently Daniel’s and Mitch’s story went — how much better The Sun’s coverage was in the latter — I am reminded of how important newspapers are for building more just and equitable communities. I am proud to have been a part of this paper as it grew from the time of Daniel’s story to Mitch’s. Journalism is an important public service. (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Journalism is an important public service. If former President Hunter Rawlings III can get away with saying “One Cornell” as many times as he did, then I should be fine too.)
Newspapers serve the community by holding institutions and people accountable, by building a more engaged citizenry, and by creating spaces in which people can criticize the present and work towards a better future. Since its founding, The Sun has been editorially and financially independent from Cornell, and it is so crucially important for students to voice independent and critical perspectives on a college that so often demands naive dependence and allegiance. But as determined and excited as we can be about this crucial responsibility, we still struggle with the challenges of living up to it every day. As essential as this responsibility is, I do not want to deny that it is hard work that exacts a lot from the people doing it.
The first time I self-harmed was at The Sun. When I felt hopeless in the face of deadlines, angry readers, and stories that I never felt like were good enough, self-injury helped make me feel in control and relieved, albeit temporarily, from the stress and anxiety. I am not trying to glorify or advocate self-harm: if you find yourself doing it or thinking about doing it, I encourage you to seek the appropriate help that you need. What I am trying to do is to remind you of how real and physical the news is, not only for the people who are in it, but also for the people who put it out and for the people who read it. Under all the newsprint and the facade of professionalism and objectivity are real people who live messy lives and have messy thoughts.
What I am also trying to do is to draw a parallel between the chaotic mess of today’s news and the anxiety-ridden experience of college. (Reassuringly, I’ve survived the latter so maybe I can make it out of the former with some sanity.) I find the news headlines today hard to grapple with, each crazier and more unbelievable than the next — which is a feeling that is uncomfortably similar to what I experienced dealing with classes, extracurriculars, existential crises and drama that one usually deals with in college. In the deluge of stress and misinformation, how do you begin to do some good? How do you start to change things for the better?
But if I’ve learned anything from The Sun, it’s that you start with a cup of coffee, a healthy dose of skepticism over the latest press release from whichever administration (Cornell, Trump, or otherwise) and an unflinching reckoning with the chaos, injustices, and messes that we live in. I owe infinite thanks to the friends (and strangers) who generously joined my wild adventure to reach this realization.
Sofia Hu is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She served as editor-in-chief on The Sun’s 134th editorial board and as a news editor on the 133rd editorial board. This is a special edition of Arts is My Favorite Section Anyways.