Freedom of expression debate, Atlantis soon to release latest issue
April 13, 2017
In preparation for their spring issue, editors for Atlantis, a creative magazine on UNC Wilmington’s campus, had been reviewing submissions of work created and poured over by students. However, now the editorial staff of the publication is split over the decision to publish the content of one student based off of previous work written by the student in other publications.
As it reads on the student media webpage for UNCW, Atlantis is “more than just an award-winning student magazine of literature and art.” Founded in 1971, Atlantis stands as the “creative force on campus,” taking in submissions from students enrolled in any university in North Carolina- this includes public, private and community colleges.
Atlantis sponsors the publication of student work, including student art exhibits, readings, multimedia events, musical performances and literary contests, according to their website. They also state on their website that submissions are selected through a “blind, juried process” and that, ultimately, “student editors have the exclusive authority to make all content decisions.”
When Caroline Orth, former poetry editor for Atlantis, first read Robert Selden’s submission to the magazine, she called it one of the best political poems she had read in awhile, according to Selden based on the comments she left on his poem. However, it was when she asked further about the meaning behind the poem that personal ideology became entangled with this blind submission.
The line that concerned Orth was “rage in the name of tolerance.” When she asked for clarifications from Selden, she asked what he meant by this line and asked if he was speaking about the protests of the current presidential administration. The poem, being of ambiguous political agenda, was not intended to be read as conservative or liberal, according to Selden. Rather, Selden said that he left it ambiguous in order to allow for individual readers to read the poem as they see fit.
After a 12-hour break in between emails, Orth responded to Selden, explaining that his poem was no longer being selected for publication due to it not fitting the editorial agenda of the magazine.
Selden admitted that he was very confused by this and asked the Editor-in-Chief of Atlantis Carey Shook if the decision was due to his personal political beliefs. Eventually, Shook responded to Selden and told him that it was based on his political beliefs; to be more specific, it was the conservative opinion pieces he had written for the website, The Odyssey.
Selden learned that during that break between emails, Orth had searched for him online and had found conservative opinion pieces on The Odyssey. Some of Selden’s stories included: “A Libertarian Rant on NCHB2,” “Democrats Hate Diversity,” “Hillary for Prison,” “The Madness of Third Wave Feminism” and “Stop Calling Anti-Trump Rioters ‘Protesters.’”
One of his stories on third wave feminism discussed Selden’s opinions about how some feminists today create issues where there are none. The story said that the “so-called ‘wage gap’ that claims women get paid 78 cents to every dollar that men get paid” is a myth as the statistics are misleading since women typically seek jobs that pay less overall compared to men.
Another topic the story discussed was that of rape culture on campus: “The most destructive myth pushed by the radical feminist left isn’t the pay gap though, it’s the idea of rape culture on college campuses,” Selden wrote. “They claim that one in five women are sexually assaulted by the time they leave university. This statistic doesn’t stand up to criticism.”
Selden claimed in the story that “this is dangerous to both men and women” because younger men are now being told that “almost anything they do can be reinterpreted as rape or sexual assault.” This is causing men to stay away from relationships in order to avoid the gray line over what is acceptable and non acceptable when dating. Subsequently, this also teaches women to fear men, according to Selden.
Orth told her staff as well as Student Media Advisor Bill DiNome that she had turned this piece down due to the past publications of the writer, and when DiNome advised Shook to put the publication of the piece to a vote of her staff it divided most editors.
“When we voted,” Shook said, “Caroline and myself abstained.” According to Shook, five voted in favor of not publishing the poem while five voted in favor to publish the poem. Two other editors are not paid staff members, so their votes did not count.
This decision divided the staff. Though some of the staff were happy with this decision, Shook and a few other editors were concerned what this decision could mean for the publication, especially since it broke parts of their constitution. Ultimately, Shook overruled the vote and pushed the poem for publication.
However, not all on staff find the denial of the poem unethical. Mason Hamberlin, Atlantis’ nonfiction editor, said that the staff should be able to turn down the piece based on the contents of what Selden has previously published.
“The consensus—or at least the vibe I got from that meeting—was that no one really wanted to publish the poem,” Hamberlin said. “I think everyone had a bad taste in their mouth after seeing the misogyny and factual inaccuracies of one of The Odyssey articles in particular.”
It is one thing to have political opinions posted online, Hamberlin explained. For example, he responds to the stories Selden wrote about Hillary Clinton and Democrats versus Republicans with “sure, whatever, who cares.”
“But to agree with Milo Yiannopoulos’ statement ‘feminism is cancer,’ criticize the definitions of rape, and then claim, ‘Young men, who are being told that almost anything they do can be reinterpreted as rape or sexual assault, are removing themselves from the dating realm out of fear of one wrong move landing them in court’ is more than enough reason to question a submitter,” Hamberlin said.
However, Selden himself did not agree with how Hamberlin and others were handling the situation. He found that the article some staff members opposed which led to them barring the publication of his poem could be construed as offensive, but that would be “a minority opinion.”
“He is insinuating that art and artists should all conform to his specific minority opinion, which is shallow-minded, but expected at this point,” Selden said. “One of my favorite poets is Ezra Pound, who was an outspoken fascist and worked in Mussolini’s government, but that doesn’t change the merit of his work. It also isn’t an endorsement of fascism to say that Pound was a great poet. What Mason seems to want is art that only comes from his political and social background, but art doesn’t conform to the opinions of the close-minded. The idea that the entirety of the Atlantis staff thinks in the same way as Mason is very disturbing, as they purport to judge pieces on their merit, not on the opinions of the individual who wrote the piece. If that isn’t what is going on there, then that has to be clear in the magazine’s mission statement. I think it is funny that none of the problems that Mason has with the publication of my work have to do with the merits of the piece. These are the editorial ethics of schoolchildren.”
Though, Hamberlin does not see it this way. Some of the questions Hamberlin said arose from this discussion: Do we really we want to support this kind of author? Do we want to form a professional connection with someone who believes rape definitions are too strict? And what if someone were to google Selden’s name alongside search terms “Atlantis” or “publications;” then the magazine website would appear next The Odyssey page with this article. “Then, I’d argue, it becomes a matter of magazine reputation.”
“For me, this isn’t about liberals and conservatives. This is about the safety and representation of human lives. I draw a line at misogyny. I draw a line at the de-legitimization of rape,” Hamberlin said.
A magazine like Atlantis should not be forced to publish something that they do not want, Hamberlin said. And according to a lawyer Hamberlin contacted at the Student Press Law Center, “there is no legal right to be published.”
“We’re an arts magazine. Not a newspaper. We never claim to be unbiased, because after all, an editor’s role is to use their bias to make decisions that are best for the content,” Hamberlin said. “If you want to know whether your work fits a magazine or journal, you should read past issues. It should be noted that in the author’s rejection letter, we encouraged them to pursue other venues where it might be a better fit.”
However, Shook noted in the magazine’s constitution that they do require an unbiased eye when it comes to the editing process. Citing section 11.5 entitled “Bias,” the constitution states that, “Staff members of Atlantis will not let personal biases influence their work.”
Further, the section in the constitution suggests that staff members should: “disregard any objection to submissions based on personal disagreements” and “editors shall treat submissions to Atlantis individually and not make decisions about submissions based upon his/her involvement with other publications.”
In an interview with Tim Bass, senior lecturer and BFA coordinator for the Creative Writing Department, he gave some insight into what he suggested the magazine do about this situation.
Bass explained that when the staff of Atlantis discussed the situation with him, he not only advised them to publish the poem but also suggested that they consider running an opposing poem next to Selden’s work. Another way in which the staff could move past and turn this situation into a learning experience was to publish blog posts to Atlantis’ website in which each editor would explain their opinions on the matter — this was Bass’ other suggestion to the staff.
Ultimately, Bass said that since the poem was accepted, they should publish the piece. Typically, with arts magazines, once a poem or work of art is accepted the editorial staff work with the artist to perfect their submission, according to Bass. The case should be no different with Atlantis.
However, as Hamberlin said earlier, some of the staff do not agree with this due to the fact that it is not technically illegal for them to deny the submission [based on advice given from the SPLC] and that, ultimately, “student editors have the exclusive authority to make all content decisions,” as stated in their constitution.
It is the part of the constitution that enforces publishing work in an unbiased manner that hurts the staff, according to Hamberlin.
“Yes, the constitution says Atlantis is supposed to have blind submissions,” Hamberlin said. “However, since I joined the staff a year ago, I’ve come to learn that this isn’t the reality.”
Editors end up finding out the identity of submitters’ from class or previous submissions, and if a piece ever enters into the “under consideration” stage, where the staff see if a piece can developmentally grow, it is impossible to not know the submitter. Hamberlin believes that the first round of selections should be blind. However, after that point, it is irresponsible to go forward with a piece without knowing the artist. Blind submissions are harmful, according to Hamberlin.
“To quote the staff of Apogee, a successful journal concerned with identity politics, ‘Artistic and literary aesthetics are not an algorithm… Literature doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a cultural product and a part of a greater artistic and social conversation. An audience doesn’t read ‘blind’ or ‘for merit,’ they take authorial identity into consideration. Trying to strip a piece of literature from the identity of the person who wrote it is pretending that it exists outside of the culture in which it was created,'” Hamberlin said.
Regardless of everyone’s opinions on the matter, the poem will be published in the spring issue of Atlantis. This debate over freedom of expression will likely make each editor consider what the term means and to what extent an editor has the freedom to deny submissions. Atlantis will be unveiling their latest issue April 21 and are hosting a release party at Bottega at 8 p.m. the same day. The latest issue can be picked up at stands on campus later this month.