From the editor’s desk: How it feels to say goodbye too early
When the inevitable news broke that classes were moving online and students had to move off campus for the rest of the semester, I started sobbing. Immediately. Through my tears, I wrote the breaking news posts on the Thresher’s social media, and then thought of previous Editor-in-Chief Andrew Grottkau’s riveting column during Hurricane Harvey. It was time for me to write a column like that one, I thought to myself, one that is inspiring and full of hope and captures the emotions of community and strength.
Instead, I called Managing Editor Anna Ta and cried over the phone. And then I cried some more, avoided hugging my classmates out of fear of bringing something home, spent hours on busy phone lines to cancel my plans, texted my relatives in Wuhan (yes, that Wuhan) and packed my shit up to go home. At home, I downloaded TikTok, anticipated the release of Animal Crossing and rallied the Thresher staff to keep doing what we do best — informing the community through times like these. But I could not and still can not write a column like Andrew’s, because it’s difficult to write of a loss that as a senior, I still can’t quite accurately imagine: sunny afternoons during senior week, sweet nostalgia of finishing the last final of your life, addictive feelings of camaraderie and rivalry during a final Beer Bike, a walk across the stage with the ability to shake hands without grabbing for my hand sanitizer. And mourning intangible moments like these feels futile and self-indulgent when others are suffering to a much greater degree, whether it be due to financial instability wrought by closed jobs or fear for loved ones close to them.
So here’s the deal: This is no uplifting, inspiring column, but a candid acknowledgment that I and the rest of the class of 2020 will not be able to have those moments that we’ve been waiting for. This is also an acknowledgment that there is no return to “normalcy” anymore for all of us, even when shelter-in-place orders are lifted and restaurants begin to fill again. There was no return to “normalcy” after Hurricane Harvey, as much as I and many students shut our eyes to the increasing threat of climate change. We are living in a time of uncertainty, and it’s time for us to not only become more adaptable than ever, but also become or continue being advocates for institutional change. A return to normalcy means a return to the status quo that has spawned so many societal ills, many of which have been laid bare by this disaster.
At the Thresher, we are adapting — first, by changing over earlier. Ivanka Perez and Rishab Ramapriyan will take over the “paper” starting April 2, about three weeks earlier than is typical (Anna and I will stick around to write some stuff and make social media posts). Second, we’re shifting to an online, weekly newsletter — you can and should subscribe using this link. Third, with no events happening pretty much anywhere, we’re looking for new content ideas. Submit story ideas directly to us using this link. And lastly, with no print advertising, we’re seeking new ways to make back the thousands of dollars lost so that the Thresher can continue paying its staffers in years to come. If you are able to and have already donated to needier causes, you can donate directly to us here.
To end this meandering column, I’d like to brag for a second about our spectacular staff, who made this past 0.75 year period of Thresher an extremely productive and forward-thinking one. As editor, I hosted monthly office hours and fielded questions from students and professors alike. As a staff, we ran the first readership survey in the Thresher’s history, with over 500 responses, as a way for us to check our biases and see how we were doing. We wrote and published an opinion submission policy and a frequently asked questions page to make our standards and processes more transparent. And we began to seriously implement a senior writer program, to fold in more staffers into our Slack and team meetings.
Starting in February, our news team created a COVID-19 response page and banner to better inform the community. Thanks to the work of our fantastic business team, we are no longer on the brink of financial collapse, although this disaster is testing their very capable limits again. We standardized writer training to implement policies such as asking for every interviewee’s pronouns, and our copy staff updated our style guide to follow the Diversity Style Guide. Our features editors made sure every issue had a crossword (listed as one of the most popular features of the Thresher) and expanded the section, delving into serious topics ranging from sexual assault to mental health. Our opinions section grew by leaps and bounds, with up to seven opinions published per week, and our arts & entertainment section impressively hosted both niche indie reviews and student art showcases. Our sports section made dramatic shifts to the timing of their pieces to better suit a sports-illiterate audience. Our design team created the cutest housing guide in the world and consistently drew illustrations that never failed to blow my mind. Our video team experimented and grew, building out narrative videos and short clips for all audiences. I love Channing Wang, our photo editor, with all of my heart — he also worked on building out stock images to use for years to come. The newsletter this opinion is in could not have been made without the help of our web team. And throughout it all, our Backpage never made it onto Fox News’ front page (and stayed funny the whole time).
All in all, we made a T-sized impact on campus this year. Our platform and coverage, and the subsequent student-led protests, led to a policy change that will close a loophole allowing rapists to graduate. We provided the community with up-to-date coverage on the COVID-19 crisis, including breaking the news early that classes would be moved online. We broke the news of Pub’s first Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission infractions and wrote in-depths on sexual assault, accessibility and mental health on campus. There’s much more I could add here, but it could fill a whole 16-page issue.
All of this to say that I couldn’t be prouder of the staff I had the privilege to lead, and I couldn’t be more grateful for my time on the Thresher. Although I won’t be able to experience many things, I am beyond thankful that I was able to experience 3.75 years of Thresher and all it has to offer. Thank you to all of our readers for your relentless support, and to our staff advisor, Kelley Lash, who has been a rock through it all.
More from The Rice Thresher
Before you attend a counseling session at the Rice counseling center, you will be told that “the RCC maintains strict standards regarding privacy.” You will find statements from the university that your mental health record will not be shared with anyone outside of extreme situations of imminent harm, and only then that your information will be shared with only the necessary officials. This sounds great, except that these assurances bear no teeth whatsoever — no enforcement agency ensures that Rice follows its public confidentiality promises, and there are no penalties for Rice if they break them. The Wellbeing and Counseling Centers should more directly communicate the limits of their confidentiality policies when compared to unaffiliated counseling centers, and students in sensitive situations should take the necessary precautions to protect their information.
This week marks the last issue of the Thresher for the year, and for the seniors like myself, our last issue ever. I have been a part of the Thresher since freshman year. And it would not be an exaggeration to say it has defined my Rice experience. As someone pursuing a career in journalism after graduation, there has been no better place to learn than at this paper.
In January, the Rice Board of Trustees announced plans to move the Founder’s memorial to another area of the academic quad as part of a whole redesign, adding additional context of his “entanglement” with slavery. This comes despite continual calls from the student body to not have the enslaver displayed in the quad regardless of the context provided. It would be just for these calls to action and the majority of the Task Force Committee who voted to not keep it there that the Board of Trustees decide to not keep the memorial prominently displayed in the quad at all.