The January edition of The Willard Wire came face to face with high school newspaper censorship and community disputes, but did not necessarily succeed in delving into the social issue of nipples as intended.
The Wire published photos of men and women with red dots covering their nipples and their faces cropped out with an accompanying story about the Free the Nipple movement.
Free the Nipple is a campaign concentrated on the equality of male and female nipples, including issues such as public breast feeding, photographic censorship, and a shift in language and perception in everyday life.
MCPS recalled the issue, which was distributed to all district high schools and some business in town that sponsor The Wire, saying the edition violated board policy by publishing photos of “partially nude women perceived to be students” and for “lewd and vulgar language.” MCPS was concerned about liability issues and backlash from Missoula high school parents, especially since they felt the edition violated board policies. MCPS policies about student newspapers are based off andmark Supreme Court cases such as Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier (1988), Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School (1969), and Bethel School District vs. Fraser (1986). All cases allow student speech to be protected by the First Amendment, but with limitations, so the class aligns with school curriculum.
When the news about the recalled edition broke and began to teem with speculation from the community, Willard Wire editor Keaton Alexander wrote a letter to The Missoulian. He addressed the need to address “societal ills,” in particular the sexual perception of breasts in today’s society.
While The Wire’s intentions for the story were genuine, it appeared the crudeness under speculation was mostly rooted in student comment featured within the subject matter.
Furthermore, the community began talking about the censorship of the edition, not about Free the Nipple. It’s unfortunate their focus was overlooked because of the execution of the piece, which did not sit well with MCPS.
It’s possible for school newspapers to talk about controversial issues like this one, but it requires care. High school newspaper staffs have to learn to be able to walk the line between complying to district standards ––though annoying and seemingly pointless, they are supposedly for students’ best interests––and slightly pushing their limits to result in profound content.
If The Wire had changed small things about their cover photos and wrote the piece minus the language that was offensive so that it remained relevant to the content, the community could have heard about the issue from young adult citizens and focused on the message, rather than the censorship
However, The Willard Wire did make sure to cover their bases and have their participants (at least 18 years old and not MCPS students) sign release forms for photographs. The staff used the photos to make a point in their article, a visual representation of normalizing the human body, both male and female. Their preemptive efforts are commended, but unfortunately did not change the outcome.
The Montana Kaimin republished The Wire’s cover story, one student publication standing up for another. They also ran an article focused on the hypocrisy The Wire felt about the situation, from their use of language to the pictures used.
In the article Willard Wire adviser Lisa Waller said without the bad language that was used in the content of this article, the conversation would have been all about gender equality and nipples. But wasn’t that the whole point of the article? To begin public dialogue about gender equality, not the censorship of a high school newspaper?
The Wire staff was right about one thing: their edition was recalled because of the open, out-there, in-your-face featuring of female nipples, demonstrating beautifully their whole point.
It still begs the question, what would have happened if they had censored all the nipples shown in the paper and kept their core message the same?
Perhaps the edition wouldn’t have been pulled, unveiling the bleak reality that censorship of female nipples is still widely not accepted, even when dissecting the issue itself. Perhaps the conversation wouldn’t have been so much about censorship and the shock factor which undoubtedly came with the photos and language used.