MRU ‘Reflector’ editors right a wrong thanks to the advocacy efforts of a small group of students

A small group of MRU students advocated for balanced journalism in a recent edition of the "Reflector" and the editors agreed to provide it. Yasher Koach to Kayla Rzepa and the other students for their advocacy work.

By Regan Treewater-Lipes

(Calgary) – On November 23, students at Mount Royal University (MRU), were confronted by a rather shocking school publication being distributed widely in the newsstands on campus. The front cover depicted a large protest sign, Palestinian flag, and bloodied handprint. This haltingly prejudiced image on the front of every issue of The Reflector, was followed by three pages of articles voicing one-sided support for Palestine, denigration of Israel, and numerous factual misrepresentations. “I was immediately disturbed and upset when I saw it,” explained Kayla Rzepa in a recent interview with Alberta Jewish News.  “Things have become uncomfortable on campus since October 7, but this was blatantly hostile to Jews.”

MRU student Kayla Rzepa. Photo supplied.

Rzepa has never hidden her Jewish identity from her peers and professors at MRU. “I’m vocal about my support of Israel on all my social media platforms,” she stated with conviction. “I have always been open about being Jewish; I’ve never hidden it, and since October 7, I can feel and see how people look at me differently.”

Rzepa has not been directly targeted or confronted by her peers outright, but ‘friends’ that she once associated with at school have abruptly stopped speaking with her. “Overnight a bunch of people unfriended me, and it hurt because they didn’t even want to have a discussion with me; they just immediately saw me as a Jew, and even though they aren’t particularly informed about what’s going on, they didn’t want anything to do with me anymore.” Rzepa is not losing sleep over the reactions of these individuals, but seeing a publication that represents the student body of MRU disseminating hate and aggression was more than she could handle. “I went home and showed it to my parents right away.”

Rzepa’s parents’ priority was to try to ensure their daughter felt safe and supported above all else.  “We wanted to make sure that Kayla was okay and that any action she would take would be something coming from her own convictions,” expressed her stepfather, Don Schapira – a professional mediator and longtime Holocaust educator. He was certainly upset to see a school newspaper voicing such sentiments, but: “I knew that it wasn’t like I could go in there as a concerned Jewish resident of Calgary. Whatever action would be taken needed to be Kayla’s.”

The twenty-year-old public relations, third-year student at MRU was quick to action, messaging her Jewish chat group. “It’s a chat that includes about twenty or so Jewish MRU students. Some people participate more than others, but I thought that they needed to know what The Reflector had printed. I felt unsafe, and I was pretty sure they would feel unsafe too.” She also took the bold step of seeking out the chief editor of The Reflector on Instagram. “I messaged her privately, and she wrote back almost right away,” Rzepa recalled.  “I made sure that I wasn’t being confrontational. I just wanted The Reflector staff to know how hurtful this issue of the paper was for Jewish students.”

Through her Jewish student chat, Rzepa was able to connect with three other students who were interested in exploring options for dialog with The Reflector’s editorial staff. “They are mostly journalism students, as are the three contributors who were spouting so much anti-Israel propaganda,” explained Rzepa. “For a ‘journalist’ this sort of obvious bias didn’t seem right to me.”

Since her stepfather is a mediator by profession, Rzepa and her fellow students decided to enlist his help to get ready for a prearranged meeting with The Reflector’s editors. “I was there only to support the girls,” explained Schapira. “This was their discussion to have, and The Reflector needed to hear from them. We all agreed that this meeting needed to be about fostering dialog and having a conversation, not about confrontation.” Schapira went on to elaborate that the four students were unanimous that their goal with the meeting was not to convince The Reflector’s staff to become Zionists, but to turn them into allies. “Being an ally is different than being a Zionist. It’s about acknowledging the Jewish people’s right to feeling safe and respected,” Schapira concluded.

In a truly admirable reaction to each of the students candidly talking about their experiences on campus since October 7, The Reflector’s editorial staff was truly moved and deeply apologetic.  “We knew that the editorial staff probably wasn’t acting out of deep anitsemitism, but out of a lack of information and overall understanding,” said Schapira compassionately. “They were so receptive to listening and making a sincere effort to understand us,” elaborated Rzepa.

The editors agreed that their coverage was one-sided and inflammatory. Instead of reporting objectively, the three articles published, as well as the image on the cover, served to divide and polarize rather than deliver accurate reporting. They issued and circulated a public statement: “The Reflector staff feels that our coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Nov. 23, 2023, issue lacked balance and accuracy. To that end, in this issue we are providing coverage focusing on the other perspective of the conflict. We would also like to stress that our newspaper does not condone acts of hatred towards any group – especially now towards either the Israeli/Jewish community and/or the Palestinian/Arab community. We would like to thank our readers and community members for continuing to provide us with depth and nuance regarding important cultural perspectives. It is our goal to continue learning and informing ourselves here at The Reflector. Our thoughts are with those who have been personally affected by the Israel-Hamas conflict.”

The public acknowledgement went a long way towards helping Jewish students feel that their school newspaper truly reflected them as well. To this end, Rzepa and the other students were asked to write articles for the next issue of The Reflector to balance out the damage caused by the November 23 edition. “It was the end of the semester and so it was such a busy time for all of us.  The Reflector gave us extra time to prepare our articles for publication. I was up all night polishing mine,” said Rzepa clearly exhausted from a week of final examinations and work.  “We all knew that this was an opportunity to be heard, and we felt adding our voices was so important to bringing clarity and facts to the story that had already been put out.”

On December 7 Rzepa’s article “Debunking False Narratives Against the State of Israel” was printed by The Reflector. The issue hit the stands the next day, and the last day of classes was on Dec.11, but: “they also posted all four of our articles online, so this is going to reach a larger audience,” said Rzepa.  “There has been vandalism on campus and the attitude towards Jewish students is hostile. I think we are all hoping that giving people more accurate information is going to help,” she concluded.

The Reflector’s editorial staff is made up of MRU students. Their ownership of their professional error and quick action is an indication that they will be responsible and ethical journalists should they later choose to pursue this path.

 Regan Treewater-Lipes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.


1 Comment on "MRU ‘Reflector’ editors right a wrong thanks to the advocacy efforts of a small group of students"

  1. Kol hakavod to the MRU Jewish students for their courage and articulateness in writing the articles that appeared in the Reflector. Not only is the extent of antisemitism in our own community frightening, it is even more so that it is coming from those who are actually ignorant of many of the facts behind the current conflict.

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