Media mistreatment

Garrett Pelican

As a staff writer for the Lanthorn, I’ve done my share of event coverage. While these events occasionally involve lots of alcohol, hors d’oeuvres and glaring absences of purpose, I try to avoid judging books by their covers. Still, as I walked up to (the announcement ceremony for the new L. William Seidman building with) a white tent flooded with more suits and blazers than a Gatsby affair, I noticed the incongruity between their attire and my own – a hoodie, khakis and a Yankees cap. Nonetheless, it was a press event and I reminded myself, “I am da press!” and strolled right in.

… And promptly found my arm hooked by the firm grip of a Pew campus security guard.
Now, I’ve been arrested before so I’m no stranger to the drill, but as the un-named sentry escorted me outside, I felt confused. When I politely offered, “I’m covering this event for the Grand Valley Lanthorn,” I was met with the skepticism you might associate with a man trying to transport his ticking luggage onto a 747. A genuine concern seemed to be the contents of my water bottle, which contained – surprise! – water.

Only after explaining that Grand Valley State University has a newspaper, that newspaper is called the Lanthorn and I was in fact a writer for that publication did the security guard’s questioning relent. At the request of this product of the Patriot Act, I phoned my editor, who in turn phoned the security office, who in turn phoned the security guard to confirm that I was supposed to cover the event.

But my journey wasn’t done yet. Even after dispelling the suspicion that I was a less-than-ambitious domestic terrorist, I was told I was underdressed and that wouldn’t fly. So I offered to leave, because as much as I enjoy being cavity searched by a rent-a-cop, I could think of a few things I’d rather be doing.
“No, I think this is an event you should be covering,” she – who I will not single out, despite her choice to blatantly single me out – advised. Progress!

“We have a special place for you,” she cheered. “But, you’ll have to put that water bottle in your pocket.”
I looked incredulous at this demand, and the bizarreness of it grew in stature as she ushered me into the tent, weaving through adults toting wine and cocktail glasses – it wasn’t even noon yet! That’s impressive, even by tailgating standards. Still, I acquiesced and followed her past the mingling professionals, past the press to my “special place.” Little did I realize that “special place” is a euphemism for what I can only describe as a “college press concentration camp.”
While important persons took their seats and other members of the media roamed freely with cameras, notepads and laptop computers, I was quarantined to the far right corner of the back of the tent. Chair-less, isolated and the sun shining in my eyes – all because I wasn’t wearing my Sunday’s best.

Shortly after, President Thomas Haas took the stage to discuss people important to the university – those who had buildings named after them for the price of a hefty donation. It was then that I realized that with the exception of Rich DeVos, the DeVries, members of the Frey, Seidman and Pew families gathered, I had likely provided the most funding toward GVSU. And then I thought about the distinct difference between how wealthy donors were treated and how students – customers such as me – had been treated. So I left.

If I had interviewed President Haas or any of the elite present, I would have asked them what this building means for the growth of GVSU and the Seidman College of Business.

I would have asked them how this construction – and others – has affected rising tuition costs, especially in light of GVSU’s less-than-generous stance following the rescinding of the Michigan Promise grant.

I would have asked them how they felt about how the property was acquired – that the DeVries sold the property only after the university threatened to exercise eminent domain on it.

I would have asked about this abuse of power and others. If you think about it, is the abuse of authority by the security guard and the university in its acquisition of the new property merely a microcosm of a greater issue at GVSU?
I would have asked them if they thought these actions might affect the school’s legacy more than any number of new buildings ever could.

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