As editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper, Naba Siddiq wanted her staff to cover issues beyond what was going on with sophomore parking and campus rallies. So did her staff.
For the first time in years, her campus paper, La Ventana, had enough people to write opinion pieces. They had the means, the passion, but what they lacked was a supportive administration.
The principal and vice principal of Seven Lakes High School in Katy, Tex. required that final drafts of newspaper issues receive their approval being sent to the presses. For the very first issue of the year, after weeks of research, writing, and editing, Siddiq submitted the Ventana’s draft — only to get it back with giant x’s over the pages.
The vice principal took particular issue with any story that could be controversial in any way, she said. He singled out a story promoting pro-abstinence, reasoning that the piece had religious undertones — though it made no such reference. He also disapproved of an opinion piece supporting the Supreme Court’s overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act.
“I think they [the administration] were just scared of the reaction they would get if parents were to see that that was in the school newspaper and then the soccer moms would come back and ask, ‘Why are you publishing this?’” Siddiq said. “The town I live in is pretty conservative, I guess, so I think that’s what my principal was afraid of.”
When she pressed him further on why he disapproved of these pieces, he handed her a copy of the Hazelwood ruling saying, “If you’re going to ask why there are x’s on the pages, this is why,” without providing any more explanation. Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier as it was decided by the Supreme Court in 1988 made it possible for school administrators to censor speech by merely pointing to “legitimate pedagogical concerns.”
“It was honestly devastating at first because this was our first year having a really big newspaper staff and our advisor had told everyone, ‘I want you guys to write about what you want to write about.’ They had already written everything and they were being censored,” Siddiq said of the aftermath.
It only got worse from that rocky start to the school year. The administration later gave Siddiq and her staff a list of topics that were off limits to write about. On it were anything relating to drugs and sex, she said.
Out of options and cornered, Siddiq contacted the Student Press Law Center. Before her own experience getting censored, she didn’t know that students faced these issues.
“I didn’t even know that the problem existed until it happened to me,” she said.
Eventually she got involved in the SPLC’s New Voices campaign for Texas, advocating for freedom of press on behalf of all students in her state.
As an Active Voice fellow this year, Siddiq wants to educate Texas students on their First Amendment rights. By creating a curriculum for journalism advisors that would equip students with the knowledge and confidence to publish what they’d like, Siddiq hopes to inspire girls to join the fight for press freedom in Texas.
“Many high schoolers don’t even realize their First Amendment rights are being restricted and even if they do, they might have the confidence to fight for them,” she said. “We need to do something that can make them aware that there is a problem in the first place and instill confidence in young girls to fight for their rights.”