Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Literature Review on College Student-Run Publications


Scholars have highlighted the positive impact of student-run publications on students’ self-formation, by allowing for free expression of perspectives and more diverse interpersonal interactions. Contrary to the wealth of writings on such positive effects of college journalism, I was not able to find substantive literature on how undergraduate publications influence campus culture, student opinion, or administrative decisions. My conjecture is that literature is lacking in this regard because student-run publications usually represent undergraduate cultures and views or assessments of them, rather than actively shaping what students think about various aspects of their institutions. At the same time, many articles did put student-run papers in the context of the political climate of the college, stressing their heightened importance as the outlet for free speech amidst the rise of (arguably) excessive political correctness on university campuses. Overall, the viewpoints that are most relevant to my project include: first, many students add to their personal and professional development by writing for undergraduate publications and secondly, student journalism in higher education has come to occupy an especially important place in the current college campus environment.

The Journalism and Mass Communication Educator report supports the first notion, arguing that “citizen journalism”--contributing to discussion in the public sphere, entering into the conversation of democracy--is key to bolstering students’ social capital and citizenship. Positing that social capital includes components such as networks, resources, relationships, trust, reciprocity, and norms that are correlated with better life outcomes, the report particularly stresses the ways in which citizen journalism orients students towards the voluntary/nonprofit sector. In a sense, delving into campus and local events tends to have similar effects to engaging in community service, increasing feelings of connectedness to communities around oneself and their understanding of individuals from different backgrounds. Not all college student-run publications report local news as well as campus ones, but regardless, the article rightfully points out that the work of a journalist leads to beneficial exposures to new people, organizations, and values that expands his or her horizon. It was interesting that the author implied that college journalism steers students into the nonprofit section, though, since the concentration of Harvard students’ post-graduate careers on consulting, finance, and banking most often overrides the appeal of less “prestigious” paths. Even if the skills and experiences gained in undergraduate publications extracurriculars fit more closely with the public service, advocacy, or journalism, for example, the handful of industries mentioned above is highly likely to remain as fixtures of the Harvard recruiting scene.

Adding to the connection between journalism and civic leadership, Hopkins’ article extols the numerous publications at Boston University that give excellent student art and literature their due recognition and publicity. Other than their genre, the literary and art publications that Hopkins discusses primarily differ from magazines like the HPR in that they usually review and publish content that students had originally written for their classes. Such distinction means that contributors are not really participating in the making of a publication but instead, giving their writing a new platform. Given that there is a review process, it is case by case rather than an evaluation of a person’s ability or potential to contribute. This policy of allowing anyone to publish their work stunts the possibility for community or identity-building among people; they would not have a sense of being “in” or “part of” a publication. At the same time, the absence of prerequisites for submissions led me to think about the purpose and necessity of the comp process in the HPR as well as the majority of other student publications at Harvard.

The UniversityWire piece the aforementioned articles’ praise of student publications for nurturing self-growth and expression. More importantly, this piece illuminates the obvious yet often forgotten value of college student publications in being the only source of authentic information on campus events. Unlike the Crimson, the HPR does not necessarily serve as the harbinger of campus news, but perhaps the scarcity of press dedicated specifically to Harvard calls for a greater emphasis on the Campus section of the Political Review. We can hardly find commentaries on Harvard in mainstream news outlets, except when huge controversies make the headlines. That said, considering the difficulty of encouraging students to read outside of class, let alone student-run papers, The UniversityWire at least brings us to understand the importance of campus publications in the context of the university, to focus on the ways such press benefits the audience as well as the contributors.

Other commentaries on student-run publications point out that free speech is under siege in many colleges, making those papers ever more important as outlets of student perspectives.   Online articles on freedom of expression in higher education often problematize the shunning of unpopular views on liberal arts campuses. Similarly, some columns like “Alternative Voices on Campus” stress the need to provide room for alternative political views, in the context of schools where conservatives are a majority in the student body. The authors point out the problem of political homogeneity, which surely affects Harvard in the sense that it is dominated by liberals. I used to take comfort in the fact that the HPR lack political diversity because it reflects the political makeup of Harvard, not because it discourages conservative voices by any means. However, I came to think that a more active publicity/ outreach campaign could induce people with less commonplace views to contribute without fearing hostility or backlash.

In the end, surveying various literature on student publications at colleges informed my understanding of their impact on students’ personal and professional learning and their value in the context of higher education institutions. Furthermore, the scholarship nudged me to think more deeply about the shortcomings of the HPR, offering other student-run papers for comparison.


Contents of this path: