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  • Writer's picture The Vindicator

The History of The Vindicator

Traveling through The Vindicator’s history from a Black student newspaper to an arts and culture magazine.


Written by Sophie Farrar




For over 50 years, The Vindicator has served as an outlet for Cleveland State University (CSU) students to express themselves through writing. The magazine has lived many lives over the decades. From inevitable changes in staff to structural changes in format and style, The Vindicator has survived it all. The Vindicator now stands as CSU’s only all-inclusive arts and cultural magazine, setting itself apart from other campus publications. 


"Today, The Vindicator persists as CSU’s art and culture magazine, centering multiculturalism, social justice and artistic expression."

Starting as a Black student newspaper in January 1970:


The Vindicator was founded by Ron Kisner, who served as the publication’s first editor-in-chief. Following the many environmental, social and political changes of 1968 and 1969, including the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Glenville Riots of Cleveland, Black CSU students demanded change and a place to speak out. 


Through collaboration between professor and special assistant to the university president, Raymond C. Bowens, and the student organization, The Society of African American Unity, Black students began to be heard by CSU, and were able to get their proposals met to form a student publication. Approval for funds fell one vote short to pass when voting first opened in the spring of 1969. However, in the fall semester of 1969, when voting reopened, the funds were approved and work began to publish the first issue of The Vindicator. 


Kisner and a team of two other writers contracted with the Cleveland Call & Post, which housed its owned printing press at the time, to print the first issues of The Vindicator. In the original Vindicator office, on the top floor of Mather Mansion, Kisner and his team set out to create monthly content that reflected Black students’ voices on campus. Furthermore, The Vindicator allowed students to gain real-world experience in journalism and communications at a time when CSU did not offer a journalism major. The business structure and goals that Kisner and his team established in 1970 for the publication remain in place today. 



Black and white picture of the 1970 Vindicator staff all standing together.
The 1970 Staff of the Vindicator, courtesy of the CSU Library Special.


In the mid ’70s:


The Vindicator continued to be a place where Black students could amplify their voices through sharing their stories and experiences at CSU. Content covered during the time included the NAACP, the Black Panther movement and a variety of other issues and events pertaining to Cleveland. 


In 1975, “KUWAIS: A Vindicator Publication,” began printing. The sub-publication, which was a smaller magazine for poetry and fiction, only survived one year, but established roots for the short stories and poems that are still featured in issues of The Vindicator today. 


1980-81:


The Vindicator continued to print as an eight-page all-Black newspaper in 1980. Issues were bi-monthly, beginning in late January and ending in early June. Content remained centered around the Black community, featuring topics such as conspiracies against Black leaders, tax seminars and new juvenile laws. 


In 1981, issues of The Vindicator began to range between eight and 12 pages, and remained focused on the Black community. Many articles of the time featured academics and advice from faculty members. Minor changes of the decade included a change in title font. 



A hand-drawn Vindicator title from the late 1980s.
A hand-drawn Vindicator title from the late 1980s, courtesy of the CSU Library Special Collections.


In the early ’90s,


The Vindicator returned to its roots and once again began to create issues of 12-page newspapers. The font also saw another change. 


In 1993, as The Vindicator began to switch from an all-Black newspaper to an all-Black magazine, various formatting changes occurred. The new magazine issues ranged from six to eight pages and consisted of content true to the publication, addressing issues in the Black community, while also expanding to cover other issues, moving towards becoming a minority student publication instead an all-Black magazine. Therefore, students from various backgrounds and ethnicities began to contribute to the magazine during this time. These changes were brought on by co-editors Lawrence Caswell and Lisala Peery, as well as faculty advisor Adrienne Gosselin. Vindicator staff at this time aimed to center a minority voice and create content that provoked responses. 


The push towards the Vindicator becoming a multicultural magazine continued in 1994 under the leadership of editor-in-chief Sheba Marcus-Bey. The magazine undertook further transformation under editor-in-chief RA Washington, shifting from a 32-page magazine to one that consisted of 72-pages. The Vindicator used its additional pages to explore longer format articles that resembled academic essays, reviews and opinion pieces, all surrounding a single topic. Washington advocated for CSU students to become world citizens and view the university in high regards. He also pushed to begin circulating The Vindicator off-campus. 


In 1996:


Peery took over as editor-in-chief of The Vindicator, continuing her work towards making the magazine multicultural, while also setting standards surrounding the work expectations of contributors. Peery and Caswell continued to collaborate as co-editors, pushing The Vindicator towards becoming a magazine that incorporated the popular zine culture of the time, amplified underrepresented voices on campus and highlighted cultural commentary. As co-editors, Peery and Caswell put forth many changes in The Vindicator’s approach and style, with some of their changes still being in place today. 


In the late ’90s and early 2000s:


Michael Oatman transitioned from contributor to editor-in-chief, leading to content that pushed boundaries while adding humor and satire to the magazine. 


In the early 2000s, The Vindicator went back to 32-pages, and saw a dip in popularity. 


2012:


When Cynthia Phifer joined the staff in 2012, she recalled that campus was unfamiliar with the magazine, and Student Life was ready to shut it down. Robert Gatewood, former art director and director of art and communications for The Vindicator, referred to the magazine as a “fixer-upper” while he was on staff from 2012-2014. Phifer and Gatewood worked together to modernize the magazine and highlight its multicultural roots and aspects. 


During this time, The Vindicator expanded with additions such as online content. Michella Dilworth introduced social media content to The Vindicator when she joined the staff in 2014 with Evan Prunty, who would become the multimedia manager. Online content added another element to The Vindicator, allowing it to reach audiences it hadn’t before. The magazine also developed on-air broadcasting with The Vindicator Hour, which began in the spring of 2016. Hosted by former Culture Editor, Elisabeth Weems, in collaboration with Ellen Robinson, Benjamin Heacox, Chau Tang and many others, The Vindicator Hour enhanced the magazine by offering a third channel to discuss issues. The Vindicator Hour featured content such as panel discussions, debates, live readings and interviews with local artists, activists and musicians. During its time, The Vindicator Hour created content weekly. 


Arbela Capas added an assistant art director and design team to The Vindicator during her time as editor-in-chief, helping to increase the way the magazine could convey messages through visuals beyond photographs. Capas worked with managing editor Holly Bland to expand the mission of The Vindicator with a focus on its background and roots. Capas and Bland also worked to bring back diversity that the publication had been lacking. The pair introduced the requirement for the magazine to have a Black History Month issue with high content in Black history and value, and also reconnected The Vindicator with the Africana Studies program. 


Editor-in-chief Brenda Castañeda Yupanqui continued Capas and Bland’s work to increase the diversity of The Vindicator and bring back its roots with CSU’s Africana Studies program. 



Front cover of The Vindicator's February 2020 issue. Reads, "50 Years of Vindicator," and has a black and white subject posting for a shot.


Today:


The Vindicator persists as CSU’s art and culture magazine, centering multiculturalism, social justice and artistic expression.

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