Multiple administrators for the Nebraska college system were critical of a school newspaper’s decision to censor a conservative student’s editorial, according to internal emails obtained by Young America’s Foundation.
Administrators criticized the editor-in-chief of The Wayne Stater, Wayne State College’s student newspaper, for refusing to publish a conservative student’s editorial because she disagreed with it on a “personal basis.”
In 2021, Student Senate President Blake Aspen penned a letter to the editor criticizing the paper’s lack of ideological diversity. He was denied publication—without response. A whistleblower with the paper then revealed internal group messages exposing bias against Aspen, likely because of his conservative views, from the editor-in-chief and other members, as reported by YAF.
Instead of righting the wrong, editor-in-chief Kaitlynn Breeden doubled down, publishing a response addressing the conflict, in which she attempted to explain away her actions and argued semantics. Notably, she addressed Aspen’s letter, which remained unpublished—something incredibly rare and unethical in journalism.
In documents obtained by YAF through a Freedom of Information Act Request, multiple administrators expressed their confusion and disagreement with Breeden and the paper’s faculty advisor Professor Liz Viall’s decisions regarding Aspen’s letter to the editor.
WSC Director of College Relations Jay Collier wrote, “I have not encountered any situations at any newspaper I worked at in which we responded to a piece without including the piece as a reference.” He further added, “the editor seems to have objected to its content largely because it expressed a view she disagreed with on a personal basis.”
Nebraska State College System (NSCS) General Counsel and Vice Chancellor for Employee Relations Kristin Divel said she was concerned “if we are refusing to print letters to [the] editor for reasons other than: submitted anonymously/under a pseudonym, length, libelous statements, personal attacks, [or] vulgarity.”
NSCS Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Risk Management Angela DuVall Melton agreed, adding, “Had the student editor simply refused to print the letter, I would not have necessarily had an issue with it but the fact that she wrote a response really changes this for me.”
An updated editorial policy was released after the incident, giving even more discretion to the editor and allowing her to deny articles for any perceived criticism or “hate speech.”
The new policy serves as a shield for the editor-in-chief to deny any articles challenging her decisions, political beliefs, motivations, values, and more.
According to the policy, “Hate speech, misinformation, speech which may incite violence, and speech that disparages or attempts to intimidate any person or group will not be accepted.”
When asked whether the school or its legal team reviewed or approved the new policy, Collier told YAF that he was unable to connect with the necessary parties to provide an answer until a later date but will send over any answers as soon as possible.
In an email obtained by YAF, Breeden wrote, “I rejected [Aspen’s letter] because it takes second place for the most offensive hate mail I’ve received.”
The Wayne Stater’s faculty advisor initially agreed to meet with Aspen following the leaked group messages, however, she abruptly canceled the meeting.
Emails obtained by YAF revealed that Viall reviewed Breeden’s lengthy and concerning response to Aspen’s unpublished letter.
Viall later posted the response to Facebook with the caption “Our EIC tells it like it is.”
Documents revealed that Viall exchanged emails with a representative from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who said “I’m so sorry that your students and the paper are taking the heat on Twitter right now.”
After violating journalistic norms and ethics The Wayne Stater faced criticism from across the country.
Concerned alumni of the paper even reacted to the censorious decision. One alumnus wrote an email to the paper’s faculty advisor expressing his disappointment. “I don’t believe it’s fair to Mr. Aspen for the Stater to publish a lengthy editorial about why it decided to not publish his letter, while citing his letter throughout the editorial. Readers should be able to see his side, too.”
The school clearly recognizes the wrongdoing of the paper but couldn’t care less. The editor-in-chief has been effectively rewarded for censoring conservative opinions, as the new editorial policy gives her free rein to declare anything “hate speech” or deny any criticism. Free speech is at risk at our universities. Conservative opinions are already underrepresented at our higher education institutions and Wayne State’s choice to empower the editor of a school paper to censor conservatives is reprehensible.