Editorial: What We Know About Josh Wagner

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

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Author: Mary Frasier

Mary Frasier '21 is the Director of Photography and writer for The Gettysburgian, primarily covering news. Mary is a Political Science and History double major with a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies minor. In addition to The Gettysburgian, Mary is also the student assistant at the Civil War Institute, the ToDragma Reporter for Alpha Omicron Pi, a member of College Democrats, and a PLA for El Centro. Follow her on Instagram @maryfrasier98.

Author: Katherine Lentz

Katherine Lentz '20 is as a Psychology and Public Policy double major. She acts as the Editor of the Arts and Entertainment section of The Gettysburgian, as well as the Vice President of Gettysburg College's new club Phoenix Rising.

Author: Maddie Neiman

Madeleine (Maddie) Neiman ’21 is the Managing Editor of The Gettysburgian during the fall 2019 semester. She previously served as Features Editor. Maddie is pursuing a double major in History and English (with a writing concentration) and a minor in German Studies. On campus, she is President of Alpha Phi Omega, the national co-ed service organization, and she works as an Ambassador for the Admissions Office, an Office Assistant in the English Department Office, a Peer Teaching Assistant for the German Studies Department, and a Research Assistant for Professor Kerry Wallach of the German Studies Department.

Author: Benjamin Pontz

Benjamin Pontz '20 served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gettysburgian from 2018 until 2020, Managing News Editor from 2017 until 2018, News Editor in the spring of 2017, and Staff Writer during the fall of 2016. During his tenure, he wrote 232 articles. He led teams that won two first place Keystone Press Awards for ongoing news coverage (once of Bob Garthwait's resignation, and the other of Robert Spencer's visit to campus) and was part of the team that wrote a first-place trio of editorials in 2018. He also received recognition for a music review he wrote in 2019. A political science and public policy major with a music minor, he graduated in May of 2020 and will pursue a master's degree in public policy on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Manchester before enrolling in law school.

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  1. This article would be harmlessly saccharine if it wasn’t chock full of subliminal propaganda. Choosing 3 females to vouch for him as if that somehow makes his joking about sexual assault ok? How is this any different from choosing 3 black people to vouch for a man who was wearing blackface. Also, this is eerily reminiscent of every other “Great guy does bad thing” news article (a lens commonly afforded to only to white males) which asks us to consider the person character as somehow separate from their actions e.g. “ALL AMERICAN STANFORD SWIMMER ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ASSUALT”. Then there is the tactic of minimalizing the severity of an action by passage of time “year-old April Fools joke,” – another oppressive tactic.

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    • You have to take into context the intent of the article he wrote. His intention was CLEARLY to draw attention to the issue of sexual assault on campus, and not to trivialize it. Additionally, the article was clearly satire and written on April fools day, which must be taken into consideration as well.

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      • Draw attention to sexual assault by demonizing black men and war torn countries? By contributing to the rape culture that perpetuates sexual assault? This idea that humor is a right for any wrong is one only held by privileged groups. If you are going to try to make a laughing matter out of a serious issue you better be deft and not daft in doing so. The response to the article is honestly worse and much more revelatory than the article itself. I am curious if Wagner has written any serious articles drawing attention to sexual assault, attended any SASA meetings, or any meetings at the women’s center…. or is sexual assault only relevant when it can be laughed at. Therein lies the rub right?

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  2. This has to be the most biased defense ever. Not only did he joke about sexual assault, he also indirectly accused every member of Phi Gamma Delta of committing such egregious acts. As a graduated member that was the butt of this joke I am appalled that he was elected to speak. I have never met this person, however he has never met me either. For him to accuse my entire fraternity of committing sexual assault, whether a joke or not, slanders our entire organization, while also making light of such a troubling topic such as sexual assault.

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  3. My name is John Carroll – I was the Vice President of Fiji when this article came out. Mary Frasier ’21 stated: “He did not use sexual assault and sexual violence as a punchline, he used a fraternity.” …And? Is that any different? He used my fraternity. He slandered the name of a group of guys who have done nothing related to sexual assault or violence. We take sexual harassment extremely seriously in our house, and I know our female friends can attest to that. We reached out after the article was written with questions as to what the motive was, and while I am the first one to call people out on being too offended by a joke this completely crossed the line. A commencement speaker should be someone who sets a great example for the student body. Based on the petitions, the student body clearly does not see Josh Wagner as a suitable candidate for commencement speaker.

    — Proud To Be

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    • Dear John Carroll,
      Before the controversy about Josh Wagner burst into the public eye this week, for other reasons I had been asking several non-Greek students to tell me which fraternities had the best and which had the worst reputations in their opinion. This is obviously a completely non-scientific survey. But so far every single student I’ve asked–not just most, but every single one–when naming the worst has said FIJI, either as simply the worst one, or as one of the two worst. And when I ask them why, the issue of sexual assault has come up every time as well. This is their perception: it does not mean that it is fair or accurate. But as a former VP and a FIJI member, it may be wise for you and your fraternity brothers to ascertain what FIJI has done to contribute to this reputation as well as what it has not done to be an active advocate against sexual assault within the Greek system and on campus in general. Again: I’m not weighing in one way or another on whether or not these students’ perceptions are fair & accurate. But it is the reality that FIJI, and a few other fraternities, must face, and perhaps should be far more vigilant and proactive in ensuring that their spaces, activities and mentality aren’t simply neutral but are ones that are effective in combating sexual assault and challenging the entire college to provide a safer and more supportive environment for those who have been victimized. Taking sexual harassment and sexual assault seriously is good. But taking it seriously and being an advocate against it are not the same thing. Fraternities like FIJI wield power on this campus; I hope they will use it well. Let’s see fraternity brothers listen, learn and become advocates by showing up in droves for some of the many talks, panels, discussion groups that deal with these sorts of issues–not because you’ll get credit for a class, but because you want to make this campus a better, safer place for everyone.

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