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Students question response to vandalism report

In the wake of the reported vandalism of fourth-year College student Amey Adkins' vehicle, various student groups have been critical of the University's response and The Cavalier Daily's coverage of the alleged incident.

On Sept. 8, Adkins, a Lawn resident, reported to police from a blue phone that her vehicle was defaced with a racial epithet.

After much discussion, editors of The Cavalier Daily chose not to cover the incident as a news story because it could not be confirmed by at least two sources, according to Editor-in-Chief Chris Wilson.

An advertisement purchased by Pat Lampkin, vice president for student affairs, appeared in The Cavalier Daily Sept. 10. The ad addressed the reported incident and asked any members of the community who knew anything to come forward immediately.

Adkins then wrote a guest opinion column that appeared in the Sept. 17 issue of The Cavalier Daily. In his column on Sept. 20, Ombudsman Jeremy Ashton questioned editors' decisions not to cover the issue as a news story after it had appeared in the paper twice.

"The foremost reason we decided not to run the story is that there are hard and fast principles in journalism which require information be confirmed by two sources," Wilson said. "Therefore, we decided it would have been irresponsible to report this incident immediately and instead opted to wait and gauge community reaction."

Minority Rights Coalition Chair Spencer Pilgrim said the reported Adkins incident deserved to be covered by the paper.

"Though I understand it is considered only an act of vandalism, when it becomes a hate crime -- no matter how small -- it is newsworthy," Pilgrim said.

Pilgrim explained that he feels the actions taken are indicative of the depth of understanding and commitment to diversity issues.

"It would not have taken much -- I think as an initial response most would have been more satisfied with one of [Lampkin's] mass e-mails informing people of the incident rather than a quarter page ad on the seventh page of The Cavalier Daily," he said.

English Prof. Bill Fishback, who served as a former Information Services staff member under President Edgar Shannon and an editor for The Richmond Times-Dispatch, said The Cavalier Daily editors faced a difficult decision.

"If The Cavalier Daily withheld publication of this alleged incident while it continued to pursue more information, then it is understandable," Fishback said. "In the meantime, if the University exacerbates the process by forcing the breaking of the story in the ad, then the paper should have picked up the story.

"It is a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation," he added.

Adkins said she understands the position Cavalier Daily editors were in.

"My general thought is that an article discussing the incident would have been helpful; however, I think the responsibility lies first with the administration to make sure these incidents are brought into light so that the Cav Daily has the opportunity to report," she said.

The day after she reported the incident, Adkins spoke with Lampkin.

"I was initially under the pretense with [Lampkin] that the ad would run and a mass e-mail would be sent," Adkins said. "I thought that would be sufficient, but I also thought it would hold a more prominent place in the paper -- it was embedded and distorted."

Lampkin later explained that she chose to purchase an advertisement in order to ensure that the information would be printed.

She added that the decision to send a mass e-mail is made on a case-by-case basis, and the administration decided this incident did not pose an immediate danger to students.

"We didn't have an identifiable perpetrator or location, only a report that it occurred," Lampkin said. "We usually want to warn people if they should be on the look out."

She added it is a decision made in conjunction with the police.

"We wanted people to absolutely know that the University does not tolerate this behavior and to remind the community what we stand for," Lampkin said.

Greg Jackson, Student Council vice president for student affairs, said the lack of coverage makes it difficult for the University community to be informed.

"Publicity is a big part of the solution -- you have to be aware of the problem before you can begin to solve it," Jackson said.

The Black Student Alliance will hold a town meeting, entitled "Zero Tolerance for Ignorance," in reaction to the recent incident tonight at 5:30 in Rouss 202.

Editor's note: Because he was interviewed for this story, Editor-in-Chief Chris Wilson did not participate in the editing process.