Serving the Cleveland State University community for close to 40 years, The Vindicator, has gone through numerous changes in audience, mission and staff. From its start as a black student newspaper to its current iteration as a monthly arts and culture magazine, The Vindi has solidified itself within the Cleveland State community as a space for discussion, dissent and artistic growth.
The Vindicator began in 1969 in response to a racially offensive cartoon published in The Cauldron — another on-campus student news source. Creating a long-standing rift between the two publications and sparking outrage among African American student on campus, sit-ins and protests were held in the weeks following the issue. It also prompted students to petition Cleveland State’s administration to start a counter-publication to serve as the voice of the black student community.
While the administration was hesitant at first, The Vindicator published its first edition in 1970 and has continued ever since. A trying time in Ohio, protests were also held in solidarity with those at Kent State University — after the National Guard fired at and killed unarmed students May 4, 1970 — as well as in response to racial flares within Cleveland and beyond.
While no remaining staff member has been on for the full 40 years, Timothy Cox has been active with the publication off and on for the past 10 years. First contributing in 2005, and then starting again in 2013, Cox has watched The Vindicator go through changes in format, style and design.
“In , The Vindicator was the black voice on campus, and I wanted to be a part of that,” he said. “[We] probably met in this room, but there were only three or four people on staff, so I wanted to be involved in an artistic sense, not so much in a journalistic [one] — in an artistic sense in writing poetry. The first article that I wrote was [about] Ferguson.”
“I believe that The Vindicator has taken a multicultural sense, [LGBTQ] issues and different issues and things on campus from a larger sense — but I believe that the platform or the basic landscape for all the self-expression, the expression that is in The Vindicator now comes from its history as the black voice on campus,” he explained. “The voice of black students and African American students here on campus and it’s just been taken in and accepted by the university in a sense that it wasn’t before, I think.”
From a handful of students to more than 30 consistent contributors, The Vindicator has grown, as Tim Cox demonstrated, from its historic roots to a multicultural, multi-issued publication. But that would not have happened if former Editor-in-Chief CJ Phifer and Art Director Robert Gatewood hadn’t stepped in in 2013.
While The Vindicator does have a long history, it was not always a monthly magazine. Faltering in the early 2010s, it went down to one or two issues per semester. Unorganized and mismanaged, the publication threatened to collapse.
“I brought Robert [Gatewood] on to be my right-hand man because I couldn’t do it on my own, I was drowning” Phifer said, explaining how she rebuilt the staff after a short history of gross mismanagement. After meeting with Dan Lenhart about the constitution, Phifer and Gatewood worked to remove the ineffective EIC that was in place and then rebuild the staff, all while figuring out print schedules, by-laws and the publication’s constitution.
“We had two weeks to get all this done before the end of the semester or it wouldn’t get to campus on time,” she said. “But we ended up doing it and that was the stereotyping issue. And at that point we didn’t know about the metric [the number of issues required each semester] and it ended up being that if we hadn’t done that, that semester, the magazine would have lost its funding basically become null and void.”
“Right after that was when we held a vote and I had originally told Robert I didn’t want to be Editor-in-Chief,” she continued. “[I] didn’t think I could do it, I didn’t think I could handle all the responsibility being a single mom and I already had two part-time jobs at the time and full time school. [When] we got that last issue out and I started to organize everything together [I] realized that it wasn’t going to be as hard as I thought it would be.”
Involved with The Vindicator for about a year and a half, Phifer and Gatewood laid the foundation for the current magazine, building personal and professional relationships along the way.
“I enjoyed it, for the most part. I enjoyed everybody’s company and I enjoyed watching new people come in and see all their different personalities and then watch you guys argue with each other — that was always funny,” Phifer laughed. “I mean it was kind of exhilarating, [in] a way. Because I’d never been part of a group of people that were all so educated, interested in being somebody and having opinions based on well-rounded research and not just ‘because I said so.’”
Designing The Vindicator helped Gatewood make connections and add to his professional portfolio. Still in the Cleveland area, he has continued to keep up with the magazine, though admits he did not know what to expect as the publication moved forward without him.
“Taste changed, so there’s going be some turnover in how things aesthetically change,” Gatewood said. “I like the branding, it directionally feels different […] but it feels like a somewhat natural progression, given the staff, and it hasn’t really taken its eye off the ball in terms of the content — it’s still the same focus just a different perspective.”
This article appeared in the April issue of The Vindicator. The online version of the issue is here!