We Are Not Done: A Censorship Story
Media Credit: Laura Gonzalez
Art Credit: Andrea Terrero
Written by: Maria Alejandra Albarracin and Nicole Viloria
From the perspective of Urbana’s Volume 16 co-editors-in-chief, María Alejandra Albarracín and Nicole Viloria:
This year was not an easy one for Urbana, especially for María Alejandra and me. Being leaders of this volume was both one of the best things we could have ever done and one of the worst things we could have ever done. Do not get us wrong, we loved working together with the rest of the staff and contributors to highlight students’ work and create new projects. However, being yelled at? That was not so much fun. What happened to us was kept in the dark for a long time because we did not know what was the best way to act.
Enough is enough. Being on the other side, we would like to share what really happened, from our perspective. This is a long story, so we could be here forever. Do not worry, though! We will try to be as condensed as possible to make sure that you digest this as smoothly as possible.
MARÍA ALEJANDRA’S PERSPECTIVE
“Are we done yet, Maria Alejandra?” I heard being repeated multiple times from the professors and advisors I respected and trusted, as I tried to fight my way through their words like sharp knives.
When I began my first semester in Miami Dade College in the Fall of 2021, I viewed the world, especially the college through a lens of curiosity and fear of the unknown, my future. I was defenseless but nothing to defend myself from. My curious eyes stumbled upon Urbana Literary and Arts Magazine - a student publication which encouraged truth and self expression. I was unsure about my commitment at first. However, curiosity won the best of me after my first meeting. Urbana offered me the flexibility of trying out new teams, being in a safe space, and being surrounded in a community full of individuals that exerted creativity and passion. My involvement with the publication grew as I saw drafts turn to final works and each page of the magazine come to life. Urbana was a home for everyone who joined; it was an escape in every sense. Because of Urbana, I was able to tell my story in a way that I did not think was possible. It showed me the power of writing and words. Without it, I would have never found the outlet to express myself and face the fears of my past. Seeing the impact that it had on me, I could have not asked for anything more than to be a part of the new “generation” of Urbana. I wanted to lead and inspire others as those that were there before me did. I gladly had the opportunity to do so in becoming co-editor-in-chief. This was not a decision I made lightly, but I knew that I was willing to put in the work. Not for the title, not for the resume, not for any college or scholarship application because to me, Urbana means much more than a name or a student organization; it could never replace the amount that it has helped me.
Starting my journey as a co-editor-in-chief was filled with learning experiences. I had to adjust and maneuver working hand in hand with the other co-editor-in-chief. We got settled and established our routines and were excited for what was to come. Along that road, however, we both met obstacles and as a team, we both decided that as students, not only as editors-in-chief, we have Urbana’s best interest at heart long after we are gone. We would never want this creative outlet created by students for students to change under our watch.
During the end of the Fall of 2022 semester, I came face to face with the harm someone in a position of authority can exert in a power grab In a publication that encourages freedom of speech, speaking our minds and using our voices, I was soon stripped of all that I knew. After the other co-editor-in-chief showed concern to a statement made by an advisor, we were quickly met with unjust responses. We were told that turning Urbana into a club was decided as an “administrative decision.” We couldn’t understand why an administrative decision regarding our student-led organization was made without our consent. The manner in which we were told the decision was cold and overpowering. Regardless of the unwavering tone, we both pushed through their words and stood up for ourselves and brought up our concerns. However, we were told that it did not concern us as it did not have to do with our time in Miami Dade College. In the moment of shock, I searched deeply for ways to negotiate and provide a solution. However, all questions and concerns were met with annoyance and disrespect from our advisors. I was told I was not even allowed to send out an email to seek further clarification. My voice was censored and my rights as a student were stricken down. We were met with interruptions and unclear answers brushing us off. Important notes talked about prior were quickly used against us. I remember my name being repeated like a hard echo through the screen ... the screen slowly cracking.
“Are we done yet, Maria Alejandra?” I heard once again.
This moment ceased to be just another meeting. This represented a broken bridge between the advisors and us as the co-editors-in-chief. We were unsure what to do, but we sought proper support from the Student Press Law Center and were emboldened by the realization that our rights as students and leaders of our campus media outlet were being violated. Since then, there has been tension and it seems as though there is no concern to rebuild the bridge that was broken down that day.
Personally, I am worried. I am always unsure of what to expect. This has been a journey about finding a balance between handling my passion for Urbana and showcasing professionalism in all my choices and actions. The safe walls that I walked through as a freshman have crumbled. Is the student always wrong? Will the student ever have a voice? I have spent days thinking about it and figuring out what's best for the publication. This has taught me to keep my guard up and to learn to manage injustices. Most importantly, I have learned to defend myself and my rights. If not me then who will? Who will advocate for the future of Urbana generations?
Amidst everything it all feels as administration are slowly breaking the glass and mosaic that is Urbana. Pressuring us, making us feel small, making us feel crazy. Cornering us to get the answer they want. But even under this constant pressure and gaslighting, I learned to not let impulsivity rule my actions. I have learned to stop and think about what I was told, how it was told, who we could confide in, and most importantly ask myself I have Urbana’s best interest at heart and I am not motivated by spite or by a desire to prove them wrong. I learned that acting motivated by a need for power or control, as I witnessed in my advisors, is not the way I wish to lead my life. This experience has made me grow as a scholar and professional woman.
Additionally, communication and team work has helped me through this time. I remember that I was not the only one in that meeting. The other co-editor-in-chief of Urbana was with me; she is my witness, my confidant, and my ally. Without her and our communication, we would not be able to fight or stand up against the grievances we experienced. I learned that we did not have to be friends to validate each other’s experiences. We had the unfortunate solidarity of those who experience collective trauma. She was just as confused and surprised about the advisor's behavior, but most importantly she knew the hurt and frustration of not being heard by an administration that is supposed to stand by the Miami Dade College student code of conduct, which states, “Any act which unlawfully restricts the professor's or another student's right to speak is prohibited.” This code is disregarded when it comes to professors that are viewed in high regard and are in good standing. Who believes two female students whose words can easily be twisted or manipulated?
In many other instances in my life, I have never found myself in a position in need to defend myself to this extent. Learning that a voice is the best tool that a student has is the most important lesson I have learned. Self-advocacy is important because not only am I advocating for myself but for others. Although I know that I am fighting a battle against giants, I will not give up until I am heard.
If not me, then who? If not now, then when?
"You don’t have a voice in this matter,” said one of the current advisors of Urbana Literary & Arts magazine to the other co-editor-in-chief and me when we voiced our concerns about an administrative decision. At that moment, my anxiety and fear turned into feeling gaslighted. This was a professor who I truly valued and looked up to, who helped me switch my major from pre-veterinary medicine to English literature, and who introduced me to the world of poetry in my first creative writing class. Thus, I did not want to believe that he was raising his voice at me. I did not want to believe that he was making me shake inside. I did not want to believe that he did not make me feel safe during a meeting where María Alejandra and I just wanted to have a say in the future of the magazine.
We were silenced but decided to stand up for ourselves by first seeking advice from our trusted former advisor, which led to setting up a meeting with the deans of students and faculty. While this was happening, I understood I could not ask for a letter of recommendation from someone who was not the person I thought he was. Urbana’s former advisor and one of the people I trust the most in my academic journey encouraged me to speak up and show my student rights in that meeting. We prepared by outlining our rights, handing the deans copies, and following an agenda to fully explain the situation. At that moment, we felt heard. However, justifications of behavior such as being “too passionate” about the magazine or “having had a hard day” made it clear that our lack of safety was not a priority.
Urbana has always been a safe space for me as it has been key in my own healing and self-acceptance journey. These new advisors have threatened to change that. Because of their own ego and desires for power, they want the magazine to become a club. At first, María Alejandra and I just wanted to know the benefits and cons of this decision so it could be the best for Urbana. An attempt at professional discourse with the advisors only led to disrespect and abuse of power. Since the meeting with the deans, we have been relying on each other to succeed in producing an outstanding Volume 16 and in guaranteeing the magazine is a safe space for the other students. If it were not for Maleja and our former advisor, I would not be able to navigate this difficult situation.
This dilemma did not only cause me mental distress, but it challenged my values and ethics. Due to my forgiving nature, working professionally with the advisors sometimes gives me the impression that nothing happened. Did I exaggerate? Constantly doubting myself is a consequence of my advisors’ lack of apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Instead, they let their boss talk for them, justify their behavior, and never addressed the issue with us. They joke around in the meetings and praise me for my good job as co-editor-in-chief, but I fear it is a manipulation tactic to silence me. Week after week, there are microaggressions María Alejandra and I continue to notice and fight against.
Not having asked this professor for a letter of recommendation even though I used to consider him my mentor and continuing to fight against this violation of my rights just proves how important my values are to me. As I do not want any other student to go through something similar, my Urbana partner-in-crime and I are working on a constitution so no other professor or administrator can repeat such unethical behavior.
After pointless meeting after meeting, we felt heard by our campus’ leader Dr. Brown when she reassured us and confirmed that no one could do anything to us. If no one wanted to, Urbana did not have to become a club and could remain an independent student publication. She encouraged us to notify the rest of our staff of what had been going on to get their opinion and be stronger together. So, that is exactly what we did. We informed all the staff about the pros and cons of this decision and everyone agreed for Urbana to maintain its current status. Additionally, several students felt uncomfortable with the idea of continuing with the same advisors. We voiced our new decision and this concern to the campus president.
There was no response until we experienced the possibility of censorship when submitting our final draft to the printers. Suddenly, the printing company could not print the magazine until the college would approve our draft. We did not know what to do. Weeks passed by, and competition deadlines were on the line, which is still the case.
What happened? Another meeting. It seemed that the college wanted to censor us, so we sought help from a lawyer to make sure that this would not happen. However, this time was different. Dr. Harrison, Miami Dade College’s provost, wanted to understand what the problem had been. Why were we writing about manipulation and abuse of power? How did MDC fail us? It was tough to retell the story, after so many times, but being with the rest of the staff and student leaders made the difference.
We were guaranteed no censorship and that this will never happen again. Urbana will continue to have the same advisors, but it will not be like it was. We are really hopeful this time.
Urbana’s Volume 17, co-editors-in-chief Andrea Terrero and Leidy Padrino, and media-editor-in-chief Aliane Castillo-Díaz will continue our legacy under the promise that this will never happen again. It brings us peace of mind to hear this, but we will finally move on when we see it.
To reiterate María Alejandra’s words,
“If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”