26 September, 2002
p h i l i p s a s s e r
That media in general, and journalism in particular, evolves and morphs as it progresses from editor to editor and generation to generation is evident all around us. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, but always in the name of progress these institutions come to reflect equally on their subject's changing actions and attitudes. The Davidsonian is no exception to this rule. Its 88-year history is a product of as much evolution as the world that it has sought to record is. This evolution, however, is significant as it represents, perhaps better than anything else, our college's changing perception of itself and the world outside of Davidson.
In 1914, F. W. Price (whose pictures reveal a face that would have made Teddy Roosevelt wet his pants) became the founding editor of The Davidsonian. F. W. proved his worth as a man of high ideals and perception almost immediately when he successfully urged the student body to adopt the name The Davidsonian over the frighteningly popular Haka-Raka; a decision that to this day merits acknowledgment and thanks. Included in the inaugural issue was a front-page story describing the noteworthy meeting between then college president Martin and Woodrow Wilson. An emphasis on the town of Davidson and the importance that civic institutions such as the YMCA played in college life reflected the symbiotic relationship that both community and college benefited from while both were still relatively few in number. These fledgling issues offered concerned accounts of students like Ben Powell who was reported as being "sick at home in Charlotte for two weeks, with pneumonia." Advertisements of the time included several for Frazier's Cafe, an establishment with gravy of such evident quality that "Ain't the gravy good" was eventually adopted as it's permanent motto.
During the '40s The Davidsonian's primary concern with the war is seen in it's ceaseless coverage of ROTC. The endless number of pictures and the amount of ink spilled over ROTC activities was, however, brought into an appropriate context once the names of Davidson students killed in action began to filter in. The patriotic picture and accompanying caption proudly describing the new cadet major of Davidson's battalion system, Jesse Wooten, in October of '43 was starkly dragged into reality when his name appeared two years later in The Davidsonian's obituary column, after being killed in Italy. Apart from the ceaseless activities of the ROTC and occasional rumor of tragedy, however, Davidson life went on much as it had before. The reality of war abroad, tempered by the inevitability of college-life's short attention span, resulted in often paradoxical Davidsonian headlines. Blaring print, celebrating the coming thrills of spring frolics, followed by grim reports from the front and pictures of military maneuvers on Chambers lawn accurately, if awkwardly, reflected the often conflicting emotions of Davidson's campus during the war.
In the late '60's and early '70's, Davidson was not an exception to the political and social upheavals of the times. The Vietnam War and Kent State shootings that inspired action and protest in Davidson also created a need that The Davidsonian filled. In providing a forum that left readers not only informed but opinionated, issues that in many respects seemed distant from the isolated campus began to take on personal significance. Issues such as racial integration and faculty diversity were brought to light by The Davidsonian not to teach the college community but to question it.
While the rhetoric of integration and faculty diversity has all but disappeared from our campus vocabulary, the reality of their demons has not. The six African-American students out of 282 admitted to Davidson in 1970 was cause for obvious and seemingly inevitable scorn on the part of The Davidsonian. Such statistics seem shamefully low until we recognize that after thirty-two years of supposed progress the white:black ratio is almost identical, except now without provocation. At its best The Davidsonian is not merely a publication meant to inform, but also a medium for dialogue and an inducement to progress. In most cases we haven't eliminated the questions that originally provoked students to action, but merely lost the energy to ask them and the environment in which to find answers.