Students protest firing of WUTC reporter

Authored By chloe.morrison

Protestors’ goals were fourfold when they marched through UTC’s campus Wednesday in support of recently fired WUTC reporter Jacqui Helbert.

“Today is about freedom of the press, freedom of speech, Jacqui’s personal rights and the rights of trans[gender] folks everywhere,” said Lillie Stubsten, one of the organizers, who is also a member of UTC Activists for Equality. 


“Clearly, I believe I was fired for reporting a story of important public interest that did not sit well with lawmakers.”

Source: Jacqui Helbert 

“When Jacqui’s piece went on the air, folks all over town clearly heard the voices of transgender youth, and they clearly heard the ignorance and bigotry of our politicians. When they heard high-schoolers crying, it became impossible to ignore the hate we experience.”

Source: Asher Larson, transgender protestor  

UTC officials fired Helbert, formerly a producer and assistant broadcaster for WUTC, after she reported a story about a high school gay-straight alliance that recently visited lawmakers in Nashville to discuss proposed “bathroom bill” legislation. Click here for more background, including what one of the lawmakers involved said. 

George Heddleston, senior associate vice chancellor of marketing and communication for UTC, made the call to fire her and said Helbert acted unethically by not explicitly identifying herself as a reporter, even though she said she went there wearing press credentials and headphones, carrying a 22-inch fuzzy microphone and tape recorder. 

Although some students initially wanted to protest WUTC, they ended up gearing their efforts at the administration after Helbert pointed out that the station and NPR had been supportive. WUTC is an NPR affiliate. Click here to see what NPR said about the situation. 

“I feel like the problem is with the administration, not the radio station,” she said. 

Helbert spoke to the group of about 50 protestors and said that the situation is bigger than her. She echoed the importance of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. 

She also said that she’s spoken to an attorney and is weighing her legal options. 

When asked what she hopes comes from the protest, she said she wants to see a renewed sense of community and organization so people keep fighting for freedom of the press and of speech. 

Protestor Greyson Dukes said the administration’s action represents a dangerous road he’s afraid the country is going down.

“The people who are free to speak are politicians, and if our politicians are free to speak and our journalists are not, I have fear for our country’s safe future,” he said. 

UTC administrators didn’t want to comment additionally about the situation.

The protestors marched to the outside of Chancellor Dr. Steven Angle’s office. UTC officials locked the doors so students wouldn’t come inside. 

After chanting and speaking, the protestors held a “funeral” for freedom of the press.

They put a cardboard coffin and flowers on the steps of the building where the chancellor’s office is. 

“I want to say to the university we will not be silenced,” Stubsten said. “Freedom of the press and freedom of speech is what makes America great, and we are not going to stand idly by and let you take that away from us.”