Personal Essay: A thank you to The Weekly Ringer6 min read
My first night of layout as editor-in-chief of UMW’s independent student newspaper was on April 28, 2021. It also happened to be my 20th birthday, which I took as a sign that it was meant to be. I’m nearing my 22nd birthday now, my two years as editor-in-chief officially over. 48 issues and 384 pages later, there’s still so much more to be done.
As I’ve dedicated myself to reporting on the broken student conduct system, I’ve heard students’ stories of assaults they endured on campus and how they were retraumatized by the process of reporting it to the university. I’ve also heard professors’ stories of administrators brushing them off when they tried to stand up for their students. As a survivor myself, I carry these stories alongside my own, their weight a reminder of why I became a journalist in the first place.
As UMW’s only independent news publication, it’s The Weekly Ringer’s responsibility to keep bringing these issues to light and watch that administrators follow through when they promise change.
In my time on staff, I’ve also witnessed The Weekly Ringer decrease in size. In these last two years, our staff of editors and writers has gotten smaller, and so has the size of our print edition. But I believe this is a strength that allows us to focus more on quality reporting and working closely with the UMW community.
As a completely student-run newspaper, it’s The Weekly Ringer’s responsibility to engage with students by reporting on issues that are important to them, hosting events and expanding our presence on campus—all in the name of building trust.
While running the newspaper has not been without its challenges, I finish my time as editor-in-chief still hopeful. In these last two years, I’ve seen the powerful impact of investigative reporting. Back when we were just staff writers, Josie Johnson and I wrote a semester-long investigative piece about how Patriot Front, a white supremacist group, consistently spread its message by posting stickers on college campuses across the U.S.—including UMW—without retribution. We found that Patriot Front members are well-versed in avoiding legal trouble, and the First Amendment protects their message, despite its harm.
In the spring of 2022, I wrote about how UMW’s student conduct system had failed survivors of violent crimes on campus. The day after the article was published, University President Troy Paino called for an outside review of UMW’s student conduct system, the results of which were released this February. My reporting also pushed administrators to change the university’s student conduct process rights. While complainants now have eight rights with two more when the respondent is criminally charged, complainants previously only had three rights to respondents’ 12—a glaring imbalance for a system that is meant to be impartial and fair.
For the past year, I’ve been fighting for access to student conduct records involving violent crimes on our campus. Last spring, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for information about a case of physical assault perpetrated by one student against another in a dorm, which was adjudicated by UMW’s Office of Student Conduct and Responsibility. When the university denied my records request, I sought help from the Student Press Law Center, who connected me with a local pro bono lawyer to help argue my case. This fight is still ongoing, as the Virginia Freedom of Information Act’s scholastic records exemption is being applied too broadly, emboldening universities like UMW to deny requests like mine. This creates a dangerous barrier to reporting that affects student journalists across the state, impairing our ability to inform students about safety concerns on campus. An op-ed I’ve written on the subject will appear in the Richmond Times-Dispatch next week.
There are also numerous stories that I’ve handled as an editor. In the spring of 2021, we surveyed students and found that over half had cheated at least once since the switch to online learning during the pandemic. We’ve also reported on the university’s delayed safety threat alerts, how Freedom of Information Act request fees are cost-prohibitive to student journalists and how a Speaking and Writing Center pay policy may be illegal.
The newspaper itself has also transformed in my two years as editor-in-chief. In the fall of 2021, after hearing several concerns about the name of the newspaper, then The Blue & Gray Press, we put it to a vote and changed our name to The Weekly Ringer. I redesigned our website and print layout, reinventing the paper right before its centennial edition on Jan. 20, 2022. I hoped to make the newspaper known as an organization that students, staff, faculty and alumni could rely on, and I’ve watched our relationship with the UMW community strengthen since then.
In these two years, I’ve heard increasingly positive feedback from professors about the paper, I’ve seen more students and faculty read and submit articles, and I’ve heard The Blue & Gray Press fade out of people’s memories, The Weekly Ringer in its place. Journalism has a unique power that, when fully unleashed, gives voice to the voiceless, sheds light on important issues and creates meaningful change. As editors come and go, The Weekly Ringer’s work at UMW must continue. This requires not only dedication from future editors and writers, but also the UMW community’s trust and support of the paper as a valuable organization on campus.
As my time on the paper comes to an end, I can’t help but wish it wasn’t over—no matter what I did, I don’t think I’d ever be a hundred percent ready to leave. And though there were times when running the paper became so overwhelming I wished it would be issue 48 already, looking back, I wish I’d taken more pictures, written down more stories from our nights at layout and spent less of it terrified to make mistakes. But wherever the school goes from here, after I’ve graduated, I trust The Weekly Ringer will be there to report on it.
As I close out my final article with The Weekly Ringer, I’m beyond thankful to everyone who’s been in my corner—I couldn’t have done all of this without you.
To my friends, my family and my partner: Thank you for always supporting me when the work got hard, encouraging me to keep going and being there for me no matter what. I love you all!
To graduating editors of The Weekly Ringer: Thank you for being a part of this amazing staff with me, and for sticking with it through the good and the bad. I can’t wait to see what comes next for all of us!
To current and future editors and writers of The Weekly Ringer: Thank you for joining the paper. I challenge you to always ask the follow-up questions, to correct any errors—mistakes don’t make you a bad journalist—to build and maintain strong relationships with your sources, to watch that administrators follow through with their promises and, finally, to recognize that you are a journalist. If you’re ever apprehensive, just put on your journalist hat—you’ll be amazed at what you can do.
To Sushma, our adviser: Thank you for all the time spent editing my work, for providing advice and direction and for setting an example of what a journalist should be. I’m a much better journalist for knowing you.
To Norah, the incoming editor-in-chief: Thank you for all the late-night talks after layout, for helping me locate my spine and for being an amazing editor and friend. There’s no one else I’d rather leave the newspaper to.
To those who shared their experiences with me: Thank you for trusting me. The articles would not have been possible without you, and I hope I did your stories justice.