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The Trinity diploma rumor mill

Seriously, guys: Check your facts

The mainstream media and Trinity’s ‘diploma controversy’

jmuncy@trinity.edu

Internet news hubs such as Huffington Post and Fox News have gotten ahold of a religion-related debate going on at Trinity University and have distorted the story to an amazing degree. The story first hit the San Antonio Express-News on Monday: Some students at Trinity University have requested the option to remove the phrase “in the year of our Lord” from the school’s diplomas. The issue currently stands before the Board of Trustees, who will vote on the removal of the phrase in May. National news carriers and blogs, smelling controversy, leapt on the story and have turned our local liberal-arts college into an ideological battleground through sloppy reporting.

The problems with these stories are myriad. First and foremost, virtually all of them on the national level dance around the fact that Trinity is not a Christian university, and has not been for almost half a century. Fox News mentions that the school is “Christian rooted,” which is true. What they neglect to tell you is that (quoting from the Trinity website) “in 1969 … Trinity University entered into a covenant agreement … that affirmed historical connections, but transformed Trinity University into a private, independent university.” So while the Presbyterian Church and Trinity are still friends, Trinity is fundamentally a nonreligious institution and it is billed as secular, tolerant, and diverse.

Another glaring omission made by most national news carriers is that this is a nuanced debate with a diverse range of students involved on both sides. The issue originally emerged when the Trinity Diversity Council requesting the option to have the phrasing removed for students who felt strongly about it. Only after the University refused to make custom diplomas did the debate switch to the merits of the phrasing itself. Since then, campus discussion has been ongoing, culminating in an open forum in February which allowed students and faculty to voice their opinions directly to the Association of Student Representatives. A number of students from Muslim, Christian, and other backgrounds came out in support of the phrase’s removal, and after much deliberation, ASR agreed and sent the proposal on to the Board of Trustees.

A quick reading of the hits on Google News will gives you a different impression. What you will hear from outlets such as “The Right Perspective,” a conservative blog that bills itself, quite accurately, as giving “opinions as subtle as an iceberg in a shipping lane,” is this: “A group of Muslim students at Trinity University in Texas are arguing their diplomas should have the words ‘our Lord’ dropped to reflect the ‘diversity’ of college life.”

Or, from the Blogger News Network: “Naturally it would be a Muslim student who considers it right and proper to even ask that the words be removed from the diploma all because ‘not everyone believes in Jesus.’”

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. It’s Muslims vs. Jesus, winner take America! This frankly ignorant analysis (Gina Burgess at BNN even admitted she didn’t know the gender of Sidra Qureshi, president of TDC) owes everything to the misleading way the initial reports were written — on the one hand, they quote two Muslim students, Sidra Qureshi and Isaac Medina, and on the other they quote Brendan McNamara, president of TU’s chapter of the College Republicans. No offense to McNamara, but to anyone looking to stir controversy, the story reads like two angry Muslims are crusading against the white Christian majority to force their opinions down everyone’s throats.

The immature and vitriolic dialogue that’s embroiling comment threads on Fox News and BNN reflects nothing that has happened at Trinity University since the start of this controversy-that-isn’t. Dean of Students David Tuttle said it best: “A university is exactly the place for students to learn about others, stand up for their own viewpoints, and critically develop nuance and complexity in formulating and expressing opinions — all while respecting the rights of others to do so.” This news explosion is endemic to the ridiculous polarization of public discourse in this country, and is a perfect example of the sloppy, biased reporting that fuels it. Trinity University was having a civil, open discussion about diversity and religious identity, until the mainstream media showed up. Nice job, guys.


Jacob Muncy is a student at Trinity University, and a Spring 2010 Current intern.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 4/2/2010 5:15:07 PM
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