By Members of The Gettysburgian’s Editorial Board
THE ISSUE: Joshua Wagner ‘19 was selected as the student speaker at this May’s Commencement exercises. Since that announcement was made, a group of students has begun to circulate a petition advocating Josh’s removal in light of an article he wrote as part of last spring’s April Fools edition for The Gettysburgian. The article — titled “13 Places Safer than FIJI Basement on a Friday Night” — includes several passages that the petition says “use sexual and domestic violence as punchlines.”
OUR VIEW: Josh Wagner has served as Managing Opinions Editor of The Gettysburgian this year, Opinions Editor last spring, and a staff member since he arrived at Gettysburg College. We doubt that there is an organization that has been a greater beneficiary of Josh’s efforts than ours, and, as folks around campus may be receiving their first introduction to Josh based on an April Fools listicle he wrote last year, we wanted to take a moment to share what we know about Josh from our work with him at the organization.
As a preface, we want to be clear that people have every right to find jokes tasteless or even offensive. While we are sure that minimizing the impact of sexual assault was not Josh’s intent in this article (quite the opposite, in fact, considering the context), survivors of sexual assault have every right to how they feel and what they conclude based on reading the article.
What bothers us, however, is that a member of the faculty has brazenly violated the Campus Posting Policy by plastering an academic building with printouts of the article that have post-it notes affixed reading “YOUR COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER” in a clear effort to maximize shock value in impugning the character of someone that, until Thursday evening when he showed up at her office, she had never met. At a liberal arts college that prides itself on leaning into difficult conversations and approaching complex problems with intellectual rigor, this strikes us as a cheap shot unbecoming of a faculty member that is supposed to lead those very conversations.
With that, we wanted to take a moment to share a few of our thoughts on Josh’s character to be considered alongside the listicle that is now ubiquitous on campus. These thoughts arose organically — without the involvement of Josh or anyone involved in reporting the news angle of this story — and are based on our work with Josh over the past several years.
Katherine Lentz ‘20, Arts & Entertainment Editor:
I remember exactly when I found out Josh was going to be the Commencement speaker. It was on Wednesday night. Several editors were working in The Gettysburgian’s office, formatting the paper for the next print edition. Josh was sitting at one of the tables, and I happened to tune into the conversation while he was discussing his newly appointed position. I knew Josh was a kind person, super involved with the campus community, and just a generally affable guy. We’ve known each other for several years, and every time we so much as make eye contact on campus, he’s sure to ask me how my day’s going. So, I wasn’t surprised that he’d been chosen as Commencement speaker.
However, the sheer gratitude he expressed while talking about his journey to this point was something I hadn’t heard before. Even while talking about how excited he was, he made sure to note that the first person he called was his brother, a Gettysburg College alumnus currently on a Fulbright in Brazil. He told his family next, not with a phone call or an email, but with flowers and a visit home. He shared that he and his brother are first generation college students. When he was growing up, and even through high school, college was not the expected outcome. The general expectation seemed to be that he would end up working on the farm. It was for this reason he wanted to tell his family in person; he knew how much it would mean to them, to his extended family, and to the community who helped him get here. It was abundantly clear that his happiness over the position of Commencement speaker was in large part due to the gratitude he felt towards his family.
Maddie Neiman ‘21, Features Editor:
I have a deep appreciation and respect for Josh Wagner. Since I started on this editorial board in fall 2018 and met Josh for the first time, he has been nothing but kind to me. Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know him fairly well as both a colleague and a friend. He makes me laugh. We’ve shared eye-rolls during editorial staff meetings. He does a great impression of JMR and, if possible, an even better one of Bernie Sanders. I can always count on him to smile and wave when he sees me around campus.
Josh and I, along with other editors, have spent late nights together working on The Gettysburgian’s print issue every other week. You get to know a person pretty well when you’re both arranging a newspaper between 9 p.m. and the early hours of the morning. On at least one of these nights, when I was the last one in the office and it was nearing midnight, Josh (without me prompting him) locked our office door as he left to ensure that I would be safe while alone in the basement of Plank. At the time, I think I laughed off the idea of needing to be locked in, but it has always stuck with me as a testament to Josh’s good character and how much he cares about the people around him.
I can’t fully express how much I’ll miss him when he graduates. My time on The Gettysburgian’s staff and as a student at this college will not be the same without him.
It frustrates and disheartens me to see Josh targeted like this. I’m ashamed at how members of our campus community have jumped to sensationalize this story without considering Josh’s well-being or even attempting to speak to him before defaming his name. I do not believe that he deserves this, and I’m confident that, if people judged him off of more than a single year-old April Fools joke, they would be more inclined to agree with me.
Having said all of this, I am not a survivor of sexual assault and cannot speak to that perspective. I make no claim to understand the experience of sexual assault survivors, and I respect the right individuals have to take offense to this April Fools joke.
Having read Josh’s article a few times, however, I think that the point of his piece was not to make light of sexual assault. Rather, his article draws attention to the presence of rape culture on this campus. If there is any conversation to be had from bringing up this article, it is not whether or not Josh Wagner would make a suitable Commencement speaker. (He would. I can’t imagine anyone else in the position.)
Instead, we should be discussing the fact that sexual assault occurs often enough on this campus, particularly related to Greek life, that a joke could be made at all. I encourage you all to reconsider who (or what) you’re targeting.
I hope that anyone hearing the rumors or bits of information circulating about Josh will take a few moments to evaluate the situation fully before jumping to a rash conclusion. I cannot (nor would I want to) tell you what to think or believe, but I can vouch for Josh Wagner as an incredibly decent and deserving individual, who, in my complete and honest opinion, does not deserve the treatment he has been subjected to over the past few days.
Mary Frasier ‘21, Director of Photography:
On April 1, 2018, the Gettysburgian published its annual “April Fools” edition in both print and online formats. The publication, which reached many of the same eyes as a petition earlier today, commented on fabricated and exaggerated normalities at Gettysburg College. Josh’s article, “13 Places Safer than FIJI Basement on Friday Night: Number 11 will Shock You!” alluded to the alleged frequent occurrence of sexual assault in the basement of Phi Gamma Delta. Josh’s article was not alone in its exaggerations; other articles in the publication commented on Hanson Hall’s mold, soaring tuition prices, and problematic washing machines. Through this article, Josh was able to address the issue of sexual assault on campus that is often born out of underage drinking and Greek life. He did not use sexual assault and sexual violence as a punchline, he used a fraternity.
I would like to bring to light the falsity and misconstruction of this petition and the email that distributed it and the potential harm it poses to a fellow student, friend, and coworker of mine. Josh Wagner is a kind, determined, and respectful human being. He never hesitates to ask if I need help with anything, whether it be for the newspaper or outside of it. Josh is the first one to extend a kind word when I am having a bad day and a joke to lift my spirits up again. Whenever I see him around campus, he always makes sure to say hello and ask me how my day is before continuing on to class or work. He is a lively and engaging peer who is not afraid to offer constructive criticism to make our newspaper better, but who is self aware enough to know when to back off. He has been of great support to many on The Gettysburgian staff through his roles as Managing Editor, Opinions Editor, and staff writer. Although I only met him and began working with him in the fall of 2018, a friendship developed quickly, as he is so easy to get along with. I am so thankful to call Josh one of my friends and it deeply hurts me to see him and his reputation misconstrued in this manner.
In addition to his dedication to the newspaper, he is the Treasurer of Sceptical Chymists and participated in two Immersion Projects through the Center for Public Service. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most prestigious academic honor society in America. He is the Sergeant-at-Arms of Eta Sigma Phi, the national classics honors society, and President of Pi Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honors society. He is a recipient of the Abraham Lincoln Scholarship, multiple Keystone Press Awards, and Muhlenberg First Year Student Prize. Josh was awarded the Herman Eilts Scholarship for studies at the American University in Cairo. He is also the recipient of the J. Andrew Marsh Memorial Award, the Senior Scholarship Award, and the Dean Frank B. Williams Memorial Prize, for citizenship, academic excellence, and leadership respectively. Josh was awarded the Outstanding College Chemistry Major award this spring and was chosen as a Fulbright Alternate for the Fulbright U.S. Student Award. He is a dedicated student who is extremely passionate about Gettysburg College and was rightfully named the 2019 Commencement speaker as a result of these attributes and accomplishments.
The Gettysburgian’s staff, including Josh, does not take sexual assault or hate crimes lightly. The publication of his listicle sought to bring to light claims that surrounding what takes place in a fraternity’s basement. To deface the name of a peer through an email to almost the entire student body is extremely unprofessional and discredits the copious amount of hard work Josh has done for the college.
The honor of Commencement speaker is awarded to a student that shows intelligence, poise, and an ability to represent the graduating class. Removing him from this position will do the graduating class of 2019 a great disservice and will unfairly tarnish his future.
Going forward, I strongly advise those who organized this petition to question the events that occur in fraternity basements and ways to end rape culture before attacking someone who brings these issues and concerns to light.
— Katherine Lentz, Arts & Entertainment Editor; Maddie Neiman, Features Editor; Mary Frasier, Director of Photography & Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief contributed to this editorial, which represents their collective opinion