• Julian Gregorio

Robert Morris says it was planning ID name change all along

Robert Morris shakes George Washington's hand in a Chicago statue.

Facing media storm, spox says petition wasn't impetus for removing "Freedom" from ID; Petitioner begs to differ

It was an eventful media week for RMU students — and for RMU administrators.

After the Mythbuster broke news Tuesday that Robert Morris will rename its student ID from the "Freedom Card" to "RMU ID," the story went semi-viral — partly because students had asked for the name change, saying the former name evokes slavery. But RMU public relations officials pushed back on the credit those petitioners received.

“We had already been planning to redesign and rename our (Freedom Cards) ... to make them more widely recognized on campus and more easily communicate their purpose,” spokesman Jonathon Potts told national news outlet The College Fix later on Tuesday. Potts said this simply seemed like a good time to let the petitioners know.

But earlier that day, dean of students John Michalenko had appeared to credit the petitioners with winning the day.

Dean Michalenko sent a message from Business Affairs to the petition's author, Melanie Hall, which said, "I am pleased to announce the Freedom Card is changing its name," according to an email obtained by the Mythbuster.

"Success! Tell your mom," Dean Michalenko added in the email, apparently congratulating Ms. Hall's efforts. After hearing that Mr. Potts was telling news outlets the change had been planned all along, Ms. Hall told the Mythbuster that the University was minimizing her contribution.

"Although RMU might’ve been intending on changing our IDs for a while now, I doubt it would’ve ever gotten done," Ms. Hall said. She said she believes Dean Michalenko was being honest and that the University was likely planning to update the cards' technology, but without her petition she wonders how quickly the word "Freedom" would have been removed, if ever.

"I do feel like the administration is trying to minimize my petition but I think the supporters know that it wouldn’t have gotten done without everyone sharing and signing," Ms. Hall added.

Between Tuesday and Friday, local outlets like the Pittsburgh City Paper and KDKA, as well as other national ones like the Washington Free Beacon, the Washington Examiner, and Campus Reform all covered the story, with several of them doing additional original reporting to verify the story. None of them contradicted the original story's framing.

Many students, including Ms. Hall and her fellow petitioners, celebrated the name change. People outside the University took note as well.

"I just want to say watching RMU I’m proud to see all the Black Women putting in work to make a difference just like they do in the home raising their kids," said Twitter user @sirhollywood1. "We as men need to step up and meet the moment as they are doing. Black Lives Matter!"

Other students and alumni expressed skepticism. One alum questioned whether the change made sense based on the petition receiving just 130 signatures.

"I am not saying don't change it, but that isn't even 5% of our student body at any given point," said user @VicCav44.

Regardless of students' reactions, some media figures tweeted out links to coverage of the ID name change, often along with negative comments. National Review vice president Jack Fowler bemoaned the story, and controversial personality Paul Joseph Watson tweeted a version of the story to his one million followers, criticizing the petition and the name change.

Mr. Watson has been involved in websites that are often criticized for publishing biased news that sometimes references conspiracy theories, including the site InfoWars, but his tweet's link references mainstream site Campus Reform and has racked up more than 2,000 likes and 1,000 retweets.

RMU Sentry Media leaves petitioner unnamed

The other RMU news outlet, RMU Sentry Media, covered the story four days after it broke, and linked to Ms. Hall's petition. While every other outlet mentioned Ms. Hall, the Sentry piece did not mention or link to the Mythbuster and did not include Ms. Hall's name or any of her comments. Instead, the piece exclusively quotes the University's professional spokesman.

Ms. Hall said she has avoided following media coverage too closely.

"I genuinely haven’t been keeping up with all of the media coverage because I didn’t want to expose myself to negative comments," she said. Even though the University spokesman and the school-funded paper seem to contradict her lived experience, she's still flying high on what she sees as a win.

Ms. Hall concluded, "All I wanted to do is get the name changed and I did! I’m not worried about everything else."

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