Students launch new publication Middlebury Independent

By SARAH ASCH

Two students started a new publication on campus, the Middlebury Independent, which they hope will promote free speech and encourage dialogue about controversial topics. The venture is being funded by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), an organization that hopes to cultivate converativism in higher education. 

Joey Lyons ’21 and Quinn Boyle ’21, the Independent’s founders, are planning to publish their first issue online on Sept. 16, along with several more editions this fall. 

Lyons, the journal’s editor in chief, said the Independent will fulfill a different role at Middlebury than existing student publications, with long form opinion pieces that respond to current events. 

“Ideally, it will become a place where somebody writes an article and somebody else responds with another and it builds from there,” he said. “It’s not as much fact-based reporting as it is people sharing their perspectives on political issues.”

Lyons learned about the ISI this summer and applied for funding.  ISI’s website promises to “fill the void” in higher education and invites students to “explore intellectual conservatism in a vibrant community of students and scholars.” The principles the organization hopes to promote include limited government, individual liberty, the free market economy and the “traditional values” of Judeo-Christianity. 

According to Ryan Wolfe, ISI’s collegiate network associate, promoting free speech and campus publications goes hand in hand with advocating for “individual liberty.”

“We think that editorial independence is important for any publication and free speech and freedom of the press is important, so that’s why we have a clause in our grant contract that says we won’t tell students what to publish, it’s totally up to them,” he said. “As long as I’ve worked here I’ve never edited an article. I don’t think I’ve seen an article prior to publishing.”

Wolfe emphasized that, in his view, ISI is not a political organization. 

“We’re non-profit, we’re non partisan. We do have principles and one of those principles is individual liberty and part of that is free speech,” he said. “We think by sponsoring independent student journalism, we can help the campus free speech climate and promote civil debate and civil discourse.”

ISI has just over 50 student publications in their network, including the Claremont Independent, the Dartmouth Review and the UPenn Statesmen. Wolfe said that part of the goal at ISI is to provide places for young journalists to get experience.

“I think that having good independent journalists in the media is really important and especially if you look at our longer list of alumni most of them got their start on college campuses. It’s important to us to keep college journalism alive,” he said. “Some of our publications are the only ones printing on their campus.”

Alumni of ISI’s collegiate programming include reporters and columnists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC News and more. Other notable alumni include Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Paypal founder Peter Thiel and conservative commentator Ann Coulter.

In addition to promoting student publications, ISI publishes books and think pieces, offers to help students invite speakers to their schools and hosts conferences.

Lyons said he disagrees with much of what he characterized as ISI’s conservative ideology, but that he is not worried that the organization’s conservative bend will affect the Independent’s content.

“They have that kind of libertarian angle where they’re just trying to promote as much free speech and open dialogue as possible,” he said. “They’re helping us put together our website … but in terms of the content they keep their hands off.”

Boyle said that part of the decision to apply for ISI funding stemmed from her and Lyons’ experiences trying unsuccessfully to secure funding from the college in the past. 

“We decided to go through ISI because it was faster. It was a way to get connected with some really interesting people who are doing some really cool things,” she said. “We were hesitant in taking money from the school specifically because both Joey and I have applied for funding in the past and not gotten it so we decided to go through an alternative route.”

Lyons wants the Independent to be a space for debate between different perspectives, which he feels can be difficult to find on campus. He and Boyle have already solicited opinion pieces from a variety of students and staff for their first issue. 

“I hope to see a place where people can engage with difficult issues without feeling like their voices aren’t being heard. Ideally it can be a place where people can learn for themselves and see new ideas and maybe reconsider their preconceived notions,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a place where people can be constantly in discussion on Middlebury’s campus.”

For her part, Boyle wants the Independent to function as a conversation starter. 

 “The point of the journal is to show both sides of the issue,” she said. “I think that some people will hate it, probably, but I think that most people will think it’s valuable.”

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