Orientation leader says they were told to ‘stay away’ from The Signal, magazine controversy

Courtesy of Georgia State University Public Relations & Marketing Communications

Following Georgia State’s decision to bar the distribution of The Signal’s summer magazine, The Urbanite, through New Student Orientation bags, some students working as Orientation leaders have spoken up – both in favor of and against their supervisors’ decisions.

Three students, who all work as Orientation leaders, shared their views from the inside of the situation. The first leader requested their name be withheld for fear of retribution by administrators.

This student said they were told to stay far away from The Signal and The Urbanite – specifically to not talk to newspaper staff, reference The Urbanite or mention it on their tours.

“In general, they want us to stay away from you guys,” the student said.

They weren’t told an official reason behind the removal, but there was a general consensus among Orientation staff that it had to do with the magazine’s content, this student said. Several hundred issues had already been placed in bags before they received the notice to remove them.

They said that some student leaders understand the university’s decision and think the article – titled “Students with alternative jobs” on page 33 – is inappropriate, while others see it as truthful and unproblematic.

“They are really strict on what we are allowed to say,” the leader said. “They censor a lot of information.”

This student said the censorship went beyond The Urbanite, including not telling new students about the realities of being on campus at Georgia State. For example, Orientation leaders are allegedly prohibited from advising students on avoiding walking alone at night or discussing the city’s homeless population.

The Orientation leader also noted that working for New Student Orientation is often frustrating, and that after 12-hour days, leaders always receive criticism.

“I love the idea of a student-run media that’s reporting actual things,” they said. 

The student said they read The Signal every week and use it to find truth, both good and bad, as well as updates on student life and university news.

“Not just ‘Georgia State No. 2 in innovation,’ you put that everywhere, you put that in the airport,” they said. “It’s just propaganda at that point, if you’re just publishing positive things about the university.”

Terry Fye, another Orientation leader and a Student Government Association representative, said he agreed with the university’s decision to pull The Urbanite because he said it was controversial to expose the contents of page 33 to new students.

“A lot of times I see parents are very nervous. Their emotions are high because essentially they are letting their child go off for the first time by themselves,” Fye said.

However, he thinks the university lied to The Signal when administrators said the magazine was being pulled due to a concern for paper usage, which he disagrees with.

Fye said he doesn’t believe Orientation mandates leaders censor information on their tours but rather to put a “positive spin” on the details they share.

A third Orientation leader, who also requested their name be withheld, weighed in that they thought the university’s actions weren’t the best, because the information in the magazine is useful and truthful — even the more “explicit content,” they said.

This leader said the administrators’ actions appear to be an attempt to increase retention between the period from Orientation to the first day of classes. They said they were also told that Orientation switched departments this year from student affairs to admissions changing the jurisdiction the program falls under alongside a change in leadership.

“That might be why they are cracking down,” the student said. “There have been a lot of changes.”

Newspaper Staff Stopped From Handing Out Magazines

The Signal’s staff ran a table on June 17, as permitted by Orientation organizers, to get the magazine in the hands of new students. 

During the event, newspaper staff walked through Student Center East before they were stopped by Orientation leader and student Sadia Mohamed, who said The Urbanite was not allowed to be passed out. The reason she gave was divergent to the only reason Signal staff new at that time – to reduce paper usage – and prior to the release of the initial investigation.

Mohamed said the reasoning was, “Because they talk about stuff that’s not appropriate at Georgia State … you are not allowed to go in here due to FERPA,” and then directed the newspaper staff to her manager. 

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects the release of student educational records, such as grades or disciplinary records.

“You can pass them out at your table, [but] as far as anybody from NSO or our staff, we are not passing those out,” Adriann Stinson, NSO coordinator, told news staff regarding their intent to distribute the magazines.

However, Signal staff were not requesting NSO members distribute the magazine for them.

Editor-in-Chief of The Signal Daniel Varitek then came to the Orientation to assess the situation and began a conversation with Benjamin Williams, assistant director of NSO.

Williams told Varitek that students aren’t allowed to walk around and pass out anything, which he said was a rule for everyone.

When Varitek asked why this was the case, Williams said, “So that people aren’t just walking around, handing out things … to keep it contained.”

Andrea Jones, associate vice president for public relations and marketing communications, told The Signal that Heather Housley, director of international student and scholar services, said handing out the magazine was an issue on this particular day but hasn’t been a continuing issue.

“My understanding is that generally, the student organizations attend orientation to answer questions for new freshmen interested in joining the group or getting involved,” Jones said. “I think that may have caused the confusion.”

Jones said that stopping the distribution the first day was not a mistake, but NSO staff have not stopped Signal staff on any of the following days.

“They have not been stopping Signal staff from distributing the Urbanite outside of the tables as long as they are not disruptive to students or parents,” she said.