Letter from the editor: The Spectrum’s apology for printing transphobic slur

Our paper made an inexcusable mistake on March 9. We printed an insensitive, transphobic slur that rightfully upset many students.

I apologize profusely for the error; we made it out of ignorance and quickly corrected it online. But the damage remains in our printed paper.

I wish we could take it back, I wish I had known a few days ago what I know now. When the first complaints came in, I quickly tried to change the wording online. I dedicated the editor’s meeting and writer’s class on Monday to educating my staff about diversity and teaching them to be more sensitive. Now, with hindsight, I can’t believe I was so naive and that my ignorance caused so much hurt. It’s a warning to us all and a lesson I won’t forget.

Journalism is a scary endeavor because your mistakes are public and widely shared. Today, I feel the burden and the shame of my own ignorance.

I can’t change what happened, but I hope I have changed the future.

We will all work harder to be more open-minded and, when faced with a word or phrase we are uncertain about, we will ask people with more experience or knowledge for advice.

Let me explain.

In our coverage of the International Women’s Day rally, we printed a quote from a protester and we did not modify or censor the word “tra**y” from his quote. Again, our own inexperience doomed us.

Neither the writer nor I – nor our copy editors flagged it as offensive. Only after the full word was printed, we realized it was a hurtful and inexcusable mistake.

We know how important language use is and would never want students to feel unsafe or threatened reading our paper. Printing the full word downplays its violent meaning and normalizes the slur. It recreates traumatic experiences that some of our trans students have faced, which is why we deeply regret printing it.

We admit it was careless and ignorant, but our intent was in no way malicious.

The Spectrum works to represent all UB students and ironically, this year we have tried hard to write about issues trans students face because we felt they were not well represented in our past coverage. We’ve had staff discussions on changing our newspaper’s style guide to include “they” and “their” as singular pronouns, which is what some students prefer. We’ve written profiles on trans students, covered rallies and protests organized by trans students, published an editorial on why UB should have gender-neutral bathrooms and columns on why trans rights are human rights.

We corrected the error online as soon as we became aware of it. This, too, led to confusion when the staff member who made the change did not acknowledge the correction at the bottom of the article, as is our custom. Again, this was not done to hide our mistake or to pretend we didn’t make it. The editor had never done an online correction before and misunderstood the protocol.

We want to be a voice for all UB students and we want trans students to feel safe sharing their stories with us. We are deeply sorry for and humbled by our careless mistake.

Gabriela Julia is the editor in chief and can be reached at gabriela.julia@ubspectrum.com