Missing pieces of an article puzzle

The 18th of April, 2019, the Finnish online newspaper ”Studentbladet” published an article based on the experiences of the student Jack Räisänen, as one of the participants on the SAIL conference in 2018. The author of the article doesn’t follow through from the outspoken intent to illuminate different views of this story. So, what are the missing pieces of this article puzzle?

In the autumn 2018, the former editor in chief at Studentbladet, Rafael Donner, contacted our director, Madeleine Granvik, in order to give her a chance to comment on an upcoming article on our SAIL for students’ conference. Donner gave an account of the experiences of one of the students taking part of our conference SAIL, Jack Räsäinen. This student had contacted Studentbladet, as he wanted to publish a text on his negative experiences on this conference. The content of the article Donner approached Granvik with, was nothing but surprising to the Director, as she had never heard this feedback before.

Since this first contact, a draft of said article has been rewritten a few times. We, as an organization, has had the opportunity to comment on the different versions and have been invited to give our view. Many students and teachers have been involved in giving their opinions and knowledge on different subjects and events about and during the conference.

However, after not hearing anything on publishing the article for a few months, Granvik was contacted by the new editor in chief, Ebba Håkans. This time it was with a completely different article. It was still based on the experiences of the student Räisänen, but the leverage of our view was now missing. When we pointed this out, Håkans choose to discard it.

To us as an organization, democracy is one of our key themes, and therefore freedom of opinion and freedom of press is very important. And we realize that not all students taking part in our conferences are going to like everything. Our objection to the published article is that our piece of the puzzle is now, unfortunately missing. As an example, the article states Granvik as interviewed – she was not. This is one of the things we pointed out to Håkans before publishing. The article headline ends in the word “word is against word” – this doesn’t really reflect our actual opinion. Yes, in some cases we have different opinions - but not on all items. Clearly not all background check is done. Ethical journalism is failed in lieu of a catching headline and showmanship. The unexamined screenshot of a facebook posting of one of the crew members is yet another example.

A quick check of the article shows it contains 1899 words (in Swedish). Räsäinen is quoted and narrated in 638 words, BUP/Granvik is quoted and narrated in 258 words, and the shipping company in 37 words. Simple math tells us the article is not nuanced.

The Baltic University Programme as an organization has an including approach, as we believe this is the best way to go forward with sustainability issues. If one person, like said Räisänen, for example would choose to eat meat on board SAIL, we don’t exclude them, we try to teach them. We have never stated that the SAIL conference is nothing but perfect, in fact, we choose to continue to work on the conference as an on board event. As scientists discovers new findings and we learn new things and get new feedback, this gives us something to build upon. Together. If Räisänen believe that The Baltic University Programme represents unsustainable thinking, he is clearly mistaken. Räisänen and the article author Håkans needs to learn more about us.

BUP response to the opinion of Jack Räisänen

Founded in 1991, The Baltic University Programme (BUP) currently comprises 84 Member Universities in the drainage area of the Baltic Sea Region. Since the start about 230 universities have been engaged in some or several BUP activities. BUP trives to find novel ways of interaction and cooperation among universities in the Baltic Sea Region. By promoting openness, internationalization and mobility, we aim to support the building of strong regional educational and research communities. In turn, this will help gain and disseminate new knowledge. Our focus is on the fields of sustainable development, environmental protection, nature resources, democracy and education for sustainable development (ESD). To achieve our aim, we offer conferences, develop university courses, and support multi- and interdisciplinary research co-operations.

The SAIL conference, which is held once per year for students and once per year for teachers has been one of our most popular conferences through the years. Since the start of arranging SAIL in 1996, we have chosen to conduct our conference at a tall ship, this year and for other SAILs previous years has been on board Frederick Chopin. Fryderyk Chopin is a safety-classed ship under international IMO standard (International Maritime Organization), which by law must comply with environmental and safety regulations. We assume that Chopin follows these regulations.We believe sailing is one of the more sustainable choices for travelling as the propulsion of a sailboat is ensured by sail - and necessarily machine, mainly due to safety reasons. Without the electrics produced by the machine engine, none of the modern navigation equipment, galley, heating etc., would function.

All of the BUP SAIL conferences differ somewhat, due to what crew is on the ship, what lectures are planned, which students or teachers apply, and of course the weather conditions varies. In our experience, the situation of the conference, being at sea, is out of the ordinary for most people, and not suited for everyone, thus the application process. We also want to make sure that the applicants understand the difference between this conference and any other conference held under more conventional circumstances.

This year, when Jack Räisänen attended the conference, the weather conditions were the most demanding sail we had in 22 years, unusually difficult since it was storm most of the trip, resulting in more work and stress than usual for both the students and the crew. In that situation we mean that the most reasonable was primarily to make sure that everyone on board was as safe as possible. Of course, it is regrettable that Jack experienced the conference and sailing the way he did, we respect his criticism, but we don’t share the image he produces from the conference and the sailing. We had talks with Jack on board Fryderyk Chopin and listened to him. Based on evaluations from the course, completed by 30 students, and based on a self-evaluation of the Fryderyk Chopin watch team, we cannot see that there has been any major dissatisfaction with the conference. There are no trends in the attendees’ responses that indicate that their experience is as negative as Jack’s. The critique of throwing waste, we cannot but agree in general, it’s not a good thing. The ecological situation in the Baltic Sea is very fragile, so even if vacating drainage water is allowed during some circumstances, it’s not good. Luckily most major ports have facilities to receive drainage water, and by June 2019, the laws restricting how drainage water may be handled aboard ships and boats, is going to be tightened. When it comes to waste handling onboard, it is during no circumstances allowed to throw any paper, glass, metals, plastics, fabrics etc. into the sea. This violates international agreements. However in this case, the correct thing for BUP is to refer to the Shipping company as word is against word and we have no legal right to control the ship’s operations.

We are also aware that some students don’t appreciate the food being served on the ship, but we also know that others do. However, the behavioural critique of the shipping crew Jack brings up in his article, during the “Nutella-incident", we find resonates with some other students feed-back to the conference. Unpleasant and regrettable as the situation was for most students, this is something out of the ordinary. However we don´t know that any physical or psychological punishment has occurred on board, cleaning the ship is part of the daily routines on board.

We do ask for feedback from students and teachers, as this is one of the grounding reasons when booking a ship for the next SAIL-conference. So far, we have found Fryderyk Chopin meeting our standards, but each and every year we evaluate and consider what ship to use for lodging conference participants for future SAILs.

Statements from other partcipants

Małgorzata Cichocka
Katarzyna Kamińska
Bartosz Kawecki
Iwona Łopata