‘Dear Mr. Gascoyne … ’
A.S. president offers his view of ‘The Party Rules’
It didn’t take long for “The Party Rules” article to strike the nerves of Chico State officials. The news hit here when Associated Students president Thomas Whitcher sent a letter to the Chico News & Review dated June 8 announcing that the university intended to pull Goin’ Chico from its Summer Orientation packets—two days after the issue was first distributed. Ironically, the entire affair played out like the release of a Marilyn Manson album—inciting coverage from local papers, The Sacramento Bee and even the Associated Press—and ultimately drawing more attention to the very article the university didn’t want students to read. Whitcher sat down with the CN&R to offer his thoughts on the article and the events that followed.
Do you feel the same way now about the article as you did when you first read it?
Yeah, yeah I do. I have not gotten any feedback from a student yet who’s read the article that is any different from mine. That’s really what also helped propel it, too—that we weren’t going to take that one lying down, that we were going to do something about it.
And when you say feedback from students, what’s been the general comment?
They’re pretty outraged and upset that something like this was being published, let alone given to students that are coming to the university because of the image it gives off as well as the perception that this type of behavior is acceptable when it’s not.
So, do you think the article promotes drinking?
I think it just highlights the negative aspects we have here in Chico. And I think the biggest thing that I struggled with is we’re having these new students coming into our university, coming into the community, you know we’re already trying to fight that party school image and here it is, we’re handing them a publication that has a pretty heavily weighted article about the parties which we have here. And it doesn’t really talk about the national things that we do here that are really good for the community like CAVE and CLIC and Tehama Group, and those types of things that our students really do well in. So, that influence wasn’t given to them—especially as we’re trying to combat that [party image], it really just did not help the situation at all.
Do you think the fact that it’s obviously not written like a typical news article and more like a column—you know, it is pretty sarcastic and cynical—do think it’s still necessary that it be balanced?
The hard part about that is parents come and pick up that issue—they may not necessarily read it here, but they’ll take it home. And it will sit on the kitchen table and then people start reading it and they’re not going to know the difference between … they’re going to take the whole thing as factual. They’re not going to know what’s supposed to be satirical, they’re just going to take it as, “this is actually what happened,” and that’s going to be their account. It’s the same thing you face with any organization or institution—once something is put out, whether it’s 100-percent factual or whether the entire thing is wrong, you’ve already got that tarnished stain on you. That’s the hard part, whether it’s a column or whatever.
Well, he [writer Josh Indar] didn’t print anything new—it was all stuff that happened …
It’s just a lot of the descriptive verbiage I guess you could say. I mean, it made my stomach turn. And I think it’s also very hard for the families who have had to deal with that—I’m sure they’d probably be outraged that it was being circulated to the students and the community. I think the entire university and the community is trying to put those things behind them and trying to move forward. A lot of the administrators, when they read it, they were kind of like, “Whoa.” I mean, if he was going for shock value, then he definitely got that.
Do you think it takes harsh language to maybe open people’s eyes to what’s going on?
I think, especially with the newer generation, that you need that shock-and-awe. At the same time, with those incoming students—maybe if this had all happened when school started, then they could have seen the discussions that were going on over the summer. Only the people who were here over the summer actually knew what was going on. I think that was probably the key that would have made it work, but since the students were only here for a day or two, it didn’t really help.
What do you think would be a proper way of addressing the problem?
I think if you are going to do that type of article, where you are going to hit heavily on that part of the community, I think ending it on, “You’re the new generation of students"—and put it back on them—"This has happened in the past, don’t let it happen in the future. It’s up to you to decide the future of this university and the future of your reputation"—you know I think it would have been a perfect ending to that.
Do you find it ironic that by refusing to distribute Goin’ Chico, it created more of a media circus?
I have to admit I wasn’t entirely surprised, but I was a little upset to hear some of the things that were coming from the CN&R end as far as us locking up publications in a room. That I felt was a low blow personally because we’re given 3,000 copies—last year, they sat here in a closet, this year they were in a university closet. You know, we’re given 3,000 copies to hand out at orientation and that’s only like a couple hundred a day [that are distributed].
What is the story behind the copies being locked in a room in O’Connell?
Well, apparently when they were delivered, they were delivered to O’Connell Hall and they were just storing them in a computer lab that wasn’t being used. So they were just sitting there and Summer Orientation was taking them out as they were doing packets.
So they were up there before any decisions to pull the issue were made?
They were up there before Summer Orientation started.
Was it essentially your decision to pull Goin’ Chico?
No. I went and asked [Vice Provost for Enrollment Management] Bob Hannigan over on the university side and basically said, “This is what we’re distributing this year at summer orientation.” And he sat down and read the article and I explained to him my viewpoint and he agreed and he made the decision right then and there to pull it.
Was there ever a concern that this could be construed as censorship?
No, we still had them in a rack—we just weren’t giving them out in the packets. We didn’t take that rack and throw it in a closet. We just weren’t making it readily available by passing it out to people. It was still there if they wanted to take it.