By: Nishka Mishra UG’22 The Creators is a series of profiles of Ashokans who are actively
Trisha Nagpal UG’21
The year was 2014; Frozen had hit the theatres, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was trending, and in the newly built Centre For Writing and Communication, a group of Ashokans were planning the inception of the Edict. Our current co-Editor in Chief, Trisha Nagpal had a candid conversation with the Founding Editor in Chief, Angana Chakrabarti and CWC tutor, Susannah Clark, that facilitated the creation of our official on-campus newspaper. Read the whole interview below as they fondly reminisce the humble beginnings of The Edict.
Trisha: Whose idea was it to get a university newspaper started? The fact that we started off wanting to document our journey through a newspaper is fascinating. How much preemptive thought went into this?
Susannah: I’m sure I wasn’t the only person on campus who believed that we should have a paper. But I guess my credit is just organising a couple of meetings and putting some flyers out in the writing centre. It was such a unique and cool experience to be with the founding batch, to work with the first class of a university—and a student newspaper was a must to commemorate those experiences.
Angana: It’s been a while, we got an email from Susannah saying that whoever was interested should come to the Centre For Writing and Communication. At that point, the Center for Writing was proactive in setting up a new campus with the first student body. So I went. And I think around 20-25 other people turned up. We had numerous discussions regarding what the name would be, who would do what, who would be on the team, and we narrowed it down to six students. So the six of us formed the editorial. (as pictured above)
Susannah: We wanted to make sure that that perspective document was such that the students were the ones telling the story. The university has its communications team, which does a great job. But that’s very much for selling the university to future students—that’s its job. We needed a publication that provided a real inside account of life at Ashoka. The first semester of the university was a little messy in terms of people just figuring out how things work. With the CWC, we were building it as we went along. The building was still under construction. We painted the walls. There was construction noise happening. We made it work, but it was still a little rough in the beginning. And I thought it was so crucial for our students to have a forum. The people who aren’t writers would then be able to read the perspectives of their fellow students, and I’m just so glad that it kept going.
Trisha: We hope that it continues to function after us. What was the vision of the student newspaper back then? Did you hope for it to be passed down, for it to always exist, at the time?
Susannah: I took the lead because I had worked on a student newspaper before when I was an undergrad but I wanted it to be student run and student led. I was there just to answer questions and ensure that there was a structure to everything. I would say that my vision was very much that the students would dictate what kind of publication it would be. The students voted on everything, starting with the publication’s name.
Angana: Yes, the name, ‘Edict’ was something that we had voted on together. The other thing we had voted on was who would be editor in chief.
Susannah: We also had a student build a website from scratch. One thing we talked about is the format. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the original website, but it had a beautiful yellow banner, which made it unique from a typical student newspaper site. (The first Edict website)
Trisha: What were the alternative names to ‘The Edict’? We stuck with tradition because we wanted to honour the legacy of having everything in yellow, but what thought went into creating our logo and template?
Susannah: A lot of the names were a play on Ashoka. I came up with ‘The Wheel’ which as you can imagine, was very unpopular, haha!
Angana: It just worked, you know, we just really liked it. And I don’t know if you use the same graphic(we do!) but, the designer, Vaishnavi Agarwal had set up a very intricate design. If we put it out, across the banner, which we did like, we had this kind of a semicircle.
Angana: We were a really inexperienced team. I mean, usually, what happens on most campuses, for example, the Harvard Crimson has legacies, an experienced team and a very organic structure. But the way we were set up was not an organic structure, and we had to build everything from scratch. So in that way, we were trying our best.
Susannah: What was, again, tricky but essential to me is that because we were an independent club. We didn’t have a full budget like some university clubs do. I don’t know if you guys get a budget now, but in the beginning, we relied on the writing centre’s resources, like the Mac computers. Another tricky thing is that it was all volunteers. Running a college newspaper is really a full-time job. These kids were also in their first semester of college, adjusting to the new dorms, their new lifestyle, and classes on top of so many other things. You have to rely on people who are just doing this because they’re passionate about it. This group of students really wanted to create something new just to do it, not for any other benefit.
Trisha: Do you have any specific memories you can recall?
Susannah: I remember when we finally launched the site, we all stayed up late, tweaking things and rereading our content. We went live and posted it on Facebook and other social media. I think we might’ve sent an email too. I was just so excited to have it out in the world. So that was a huge moment for me. This was the first—I think it would be fair to say that it was the first Ashokan student content that was put out in the world that semester.
Angana: So initially, we wrote op-eds mostly because we didn’t have any experience. We were just coming out of school. I remember one of our first pieces was by Abhinav Shrikant. It was a really dark piece, and if I recall correctly, it was on death.
Trisha: What was the kind of content that you wanted to publish?
Angana: At the time, other colleges would inculcate a lot of journalistic rigour into their newspapers given the idealism of journalism; we also tried to incorporate that as much as possible through op-eds. But a newspaper cannot just run on op-eds. I remember the first hard-hitting article that I have written for the paper was about the death of a worker on campus that had been hushed up. That was something that I would say created some sort of impact. I wouldn’t say we had a lot of hard-hitting reportage about bringing down the private corporate set up that is Ashoka, but we really tried our best within the framework that we were functioning in.
Trisha: What is your vision for The Edict going forward?
Susannah: I think the idea of having a democratic student paper is that the students are the leaders and the students elect to lead their own, meaning that every semester or term the paper might change slightly. It’s okay for the paper to evolve because what you have in place will keep things going. The scope of the newspaper, and our role as an Ashokan newspaper, those are very nebulous things that will keep evolving. What’s great is that when there’s a new editor, they will have the power to tweak those things, but the whole idea of students reporting on themselves for other students is powerful enough that you should be able to keep it going, even if the paper looks slightly different. So I would say that my vision is what you guys are already doing. Doing this because you love to, not because it’s something that you’re getting paid for, or will get you a job in the future. (Not to say that you don’t deserve to get paid!) But just the passion, I think is really encouraging. And it’s heartwarming to see how far you’ve come!
Angana is currently a reporter with ThePrint. In the past few months, she’s been trotting around Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur covering the pandemic. She’ll always think of The Edict and Ashoka University as where it all started.
After Ashoka’s first semester, Susannah moved back to the U.S. to run the writing centre at Oklahoma State University. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she works as a technical editor for a cybersecurity firm and writes essays for fun. She is continually inspired by the students at Ashoka and remains a loyal reader of The Edict.
The interview was transcribed by Gitika Naik (UG21) and Diya Isha (UG22) of the Arts and Culture Section of the Edict.