The Virginia Advocate is at a crossroads. From about the time I was born to the moment I arrived at the University of Virginia, our magazine had gone from the hell-raising leadership of Rich Lowry to a self-implosion long in the making. After years of neglect, the Virginia Advocate finally bottomed out in the fall of 2011 and has since faced a long, arduous revival under two editorial regimes. The task of revamping the publication is as of yet incomplete, and the time has come for me to try my hand at recreating the University of Virginia’s most feared alternative news publication.
I’m Rob, a second-year from Boston, Massachusetts and the third Editor-in-Chief of the Virginia Advocate since its revival. I joined the Virginia Advocate midway through the first semester of my first year, during that awkward transition when every freshman in America is scrambling to replicate the empty college ideals that plaster the words overly energetic college tours guides and the sights of sensational Hollywood films (think Jonah Hill in Accepted). After trying out a variety of clubs, I half-heartedly joined the Virginia Advocate as a staff writer.
I quickly found out that I had joined something that had a greater purpose than fattening up the resumes of future journalists. Shortly after becoming an assistant editor, I met the then-Executive Editor of the Virginia Advocate, Rebecca “Boo” Boodee. Boo told me her story of why she helped re-found our publication. Like other students who were interested in writing, Boo joined the Cavalier Daily as a first year; but when their Managing Board found out about her personal beliefs—beliefs that went against the grain of the progressive skew of any top-tier university—they made it clear that if she did not conform to their ideology, then she would have no significant role in the University’s official student publication. “I was especially motivated to participate,” Boo said in an email to the Virginia Advocate, “because of how ‘othered’ I felt by the Cav Daily when I indicated that I wanted to report on political student groups around Grounds, including but not limited to groups that identified as conservative and libertarian.”
Boo’s story is not unique. The University of Virginia, a school that is no stranger to the “conservative” label, has a vibrant student body and faculty that oppresses those who are outside the left, particularly when it comes to the administration and “special status” student groups. In 2008, Student Council denied the Burke Society CIO status because the mere mentioning of conservative membership in their constitution. It took an intervention from the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to change StudCo’s mind. Last fall semester, the Cavalier Daily’s Managing Board attempted to rationalize the lack of protest surrounding Senator Rick Santorum’s speech by calling UVa’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter “racists” and “McCarthyists” in a piece called “The virtues of not protesting.” Dean Groves even demonstrated his intolerance for social moderates and conservatives by allowing a Gay Marriage Forum under his moderation to become a unilateral assault against anyone who dared to raise a point for the opposition. Just this semester a Cav Daily opinion writer proposed that the University should ban anyone who he thinks is “anti-science”—i.e., pro-science climate change skeptics—from speaking on Grounds. The list goes on.
I would venture to say that most students, pressed to fit into the political slant of a top-tier university but not all that concerned about becoming entangled in political arguments, have little tolerance for such egregious actions from either side of the spectrum. Although the University of Virginia is no Harvard or University of California at Berkeley, the general animosity here towards those outside the left is enough for thousands of moderates and conservatives to forgo political activism and self-expression in a somber attempt to keep the peace with their friends and professors. What makes matters worse is that some conservative activists in the University have a tendency to turn away sympathizers with emotional tirades and Howard Dean screams.
With that in mind, there is a niche position for the Virginia Advocate in our school. We are not going to kick and scream in a pathetic attempt to attract sympathizers. We are not going to stick flyers in your face and tell you what a “dirty liberal” you are. We are not going to be another reason to believe that conservatives are a backwards, hateful people. Ultimately, conservatives and liberals have the same values—the difference is a matter of which values are weighted heavier than others. It is the goal of this Managing Board to promote that ethos in the meeting room, and to produce pieces of intellectual quality and ethical rigor so that maybe open-minded progressives will not reject our pieces at face value, but instead have one of those moments where you stop and say “huh, I never thought about it like that.”
One question that we frequently receive is what does “alternative” mean? The answer is simple: the Virginia Advocate is an alternative to the Cavalier Daily. The publication is here to provide a voice to those who feel voiceless at the University, particularly those who have experienced what it is like to be a conservative in the basement of Newcomb Hall (the location of the Cavalier Daily office). One of our policies is that we will accept any written work where the writer speaks the truth and follows our ethos.*
There was a case last year where the Cavalier Daily refused to report on the sexual assaults of Democrat Albemarle Supervisor Chris Dummler. Their official reasoning was that the case does not affect UVa, despite the multitude of student organizations that take sexual assault quite seriously and the fact that Dummler “makes decision that affect the entire county,” to quote from Peter Finocchio’s article in the VaA’s April 2013 issue. Today, Dummler has come and passed, but UVa students are none the wiser thanks to the deafening silence of the Cavalier Daily. Why they decided not to cover the Chris Dummler affair is without explanation. Thus, one of our duties as the University of Virginia’s premiere alternative news publication is to serve as a watchdog for injustice, sniffing out the unscrupulous behavior that inevitably will arise in such a big school.
The Virginia Advocate’s reemergence is three years in the making. As the next Editor-in-Chief, I will do my part in advancing the process of revival. Feel free to contact me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*However, we do not accept cold submissions, unless there are special circumstances.
By Rob Mogni, Editor in Chief
Volume 3, Issue 5 (February 2014)