‘N-Word’ coverage should be applauded

School district officials in Omaha, Neb., are investigating the student newspaper of Benson High School after it printed an extensive and thoughtful report on the use of a racial epithet in its April 10 issue.

The in-depth report, entitled “The N-Word,” focused on how students used the word and what it meant to them. In a gross overreaction, the Omaha Public Schools administration had the newspaper pulled from their Web site and are still investigating the matter.

It was only after the district began to receive calls from parents, community members and district employees did it take action. Because the principal has final approval of the topic matter in the newspaper, she was placed on paid leave until last week.

However, this overreaction is unwarranted. The students and the school should not be investigated for what they wrote. While the subject they wrote on is controversial, they should be applauded for handling it with the care that it deserved.

In addition to an editor’s note appearing on the front page warning readers of the harsh language, a large number of students and teachers were consulted. They even published a transcript of an ethics class’s genuine discussion on the topic and a point/counterpoint by two different students, one white and one African-American, honestly speaking about what they thought about the word.

The district took a different stance on the report’s content. In their opinion, it went against the Omaha Public Schools standards, “to appropriately guide and educate our students.” However, it is hard to see how the paper violated this policy. Without a doubt, the responsible way this paper addressed this language was much more productive than the way most people are exposed to it.

No one should be discouraged from talking about divisive topics, especially young people. Indeed, with an extremely diverse Benson High student body, racial issues are that much more important.

The Benson Gazette fulfilled its duty to its readership by responsibly sparking discussion on an important issue. According to the paper’s journalism advisor, Jerred Zegelis, reaction has been “almost all positive” and students “think it’s cool” that their fellow classmates did the story.

John Bender, executive director of the Nebraska High School Press Association, perhaps said it best, “It’s a part of their culture, and I think they need to talk about it in order to understand it.”

We could not agree more and hope that in the future, such initiative is not further discouraged.