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Ratrock Magazine Plagiarizes Interview Questions From Unaffiliated Student

Rackrock Magazine has been accused of plagiarizing interview questions from a student unaffiliated from the organization. 

Updated 5/11/19, 6:57 PM: The Ratrock editors have released an open letter to the Columbia community, clarifying the nature of and reasons behind the plagiarism, as well as apologizing to the community at large. The full letter can be found at the bottom of this post, as well.

Updated 5/5/19, 12:45 AM: Liberty Martin released a statement about the plagiarizing incident, stating that the intentions of the plagiarism that she assumed were not accurate and it was actually accredited to incompetence within the publication, rather than Courtney DeVita. The full text can be found at the bottom of this post, and it was found on Liberty Martin’s Facebook.

On Friday morning, a Facebook post by Liberty Martin (CC ’21) accused student-run arts magazine Ratrock of plagiarizing interview questions for one of their artist features. Martin originally wrote the questions for an interview as part of a collaboration between Bold, Beautiful, Black at Barnard, (BB@B), and Ratrock. However, after the artist, poet Jazmin Maco (BC ‘21), dropped out of the project, Martin assumed the interview questions wouldn’t be used.

Despite having dropped out of the collaboration, Maco was one of Ratrock’s featured artists this month, and an interview with her was posted on Friday. To Martin’s “utter disgust,” she found that Ratrock lifted four complex questions from her original interview in an article attributed to Courtney DeVita (BC ‘19), without Martin’s approval or consent.

Martin provided a transcript of the original interview she conducted on her Facebook post; Ratrock’s published interview can be found here. Examples of Martin’s original questions and Ratrock’s questions follow:

ORIGINAL: Your poetry is also very corporeal as well, like cracking spines and body parts as well. What do you think you of how Black bodies are used in literature?

RATROCK: Your work is also very corporeal, through your use of cracking spines and body parts. What is the motive behind this? What do you think of how black bodies are used/situated in the literary canon?

ORIGINAL: So what would you say to people who are also poets, but specifically Black female poets too, who are writing about their trauma and haven’t yet taken that step to share their work?

RATROCK: What would you say to people who are also poets, specifically black female poets, who are writing about their trauma and haven’t taken that step to share their work?

ORIGINAL: An interesting thing about your poetry is that all the way through it there’s a big theme of wanting to be seen and wanting to have a witness. And then in the poem “Ja-mai-ca” it seems like you are seen, so do you feel like you’re unseen here or more seen back home— Well, I guess “home” is difficult to define—

RATROCK: An interesting thing about your poetry is that all the way through there is a big theme of wanting to be seen and wanting to have a witness. One of your poems is titled “Witness.” Do you feel like you’re unseen here or more seen back home?

ORIGINAL: How does being Caribbean, and specifically a first generation immigrant, impact your work?

RATROCK: How does being Caribbean, and specifically a first generation immigrant, impact your current work?

In response to the plagiarism, Martin is asking Ratrock to take down the article in which they plagiarized her work and publish a pre-approved statement detailing the nature of the plagiarism publicly on their website. Martin stated that she does not want the article to simply be deleted without any acknowledgment of what happened.

Ratrock Magazine posted the following initial statement on its Facebook page on Saturday morning:

“Ratrock is deeply sorry for the pain we have caused Liberty Martin by plagiarizing her work. We have been reviewing the specifics of this situation internally and we will later be releasing a formal statement upon Liberty’s approval, as requested in her initial post.

We understand the responsibility Ratrock possesses to authentically share the stories and works of student-artists. Ratrock is privileged to have a wide range of artists open up to us and to share their work and stories with us. This is something we, Ratrock board, writers and photographers, take seriously. We hold this responsibility — of elevating student-artists and working with staff — with great care and honor. Though our intention is never to strip artists of their agency over their work, we recognize the harm we have caused by failing to meet this responsibility.”

Bwog has reached out to Liberty Martin, Courtney DeVita, and Ratrock Magazine, and will update this post with any further statements.

Ratrock’s apology letter to the community, sent to Bwog on 5/9:

An open letter to the community from the Ratrock board

To our friends, collaborators, contributors and all campus creatives,

As a publication run by and for students, we, the members of Ratrock’s board, aim to create a platform to showcase and uplift the voices of all undergraduate creatives. The purpose of Ratrock Magazine is to give students space to learn from each other and grow. We are grateful for each student’s contributions, and moving forward, we will continue to be diligent in protecting their original content. As students first and foremost, we understand the importance of being properly cited for original work. In this spirit, we are deeply sorry for miscrediting Liberty Martin’s voice and hard work to another writer, Courtney DeVita.

On April 22nd, Ratrock published an interview with April Featured Artist Jazmin Maco to our website and gave writing credit to Courtney DeVita. On Friday May 3rd, Liberty Martin posted on Facebook identifying direct parallels between four questions from the interview published on Ratrock’s website and an interview she did with Jazmin. Later that day, we publicly apologized for Ratrock’s unintentional plagiarism of sections of Liberty’s interview. We use the definition of plagiarism as publishing an individual’s work and miscrediting the work to another individual. We feel that it is important to note that this miscrediting was unintentional.

Jazmin applied to be a Ratock Featured Artist—and the board put her in touch with an interviewer and photographer for her feature. Jazmin later reached out to share an interview she had done with Liberty, suggesting it may be simpler to use Liberty’s interview for her feature. However, because we had already assigned Courtney to Jazmin’s feature, the board decided to stick with our usual process and have a Ratrock writer conduct the interview.

Our writers conduct face-to-face recorded interviews, and then transcribe them. This is what Courtney and Jazmin did, but the audio was unusable because of background noise—so Courtney sent her questions to Jazmin over email and Jazmin replied with her edits. At this point, Jazmin pulled four of Liberty’s questions and added it to her responses to Courtney. Courtney—having never read Liberty’s article, and thinking these were Jazmin’s words—included the additional questions as per Jazmin’s request, and sent the interview to Ratrock.

Courtney’s Ratrock editor did not recognize the parallels between the two interviews, and Ratrock published it.
When we saw Liberty’s post on Friday, we were all shocked and saddened to learn of our mistake of miscrediting sections of Liberty’s interview to Courtney. We met with Liberty in person—to apologize for the pain we caused, to listen, and to clarify the context of the unintentional plagiarism. Over the past week, we have been in communication with Liberty to craft a statement that effectively acknowledges our mistake in an effort to move forward. As per her request, we have removed the interview from our website and will publish an apology approved by Liberty in its place.

We are sorry for the pain we have caused Liberty and we take responsibility for our oversight. We, as a board, and in collaboration with members of the writing team, met to reflect on the mistake, and how we can improve in the future. We care deeply about creating a platform for creatives and their work, recognizing the responsibility and privilege to feature the voices of our community. As a group of student artists who are constantly learning, evolving, and working to improve Ratrock, we are proud of our contributions—but we recognize that Ratrock has the potential to grow. After this unprecedented series of events which has exposed holes in our editing system, we will be improving upon our process by opening up additional editorial positions—and diversifying and training our writers so that all interviewers can continue to engage with each artist’s work across various identities, backgrounds, mediums and more.

As we grow to feature more voices on campus, we also welcome more people to contribute to Ratrock’s mission. We have created an anonymous feedback form in an effort to get even more input and advice on how we can learn and grow from this experience. The link can be found here:

In the meantime, we will keep striving to support and uplift all creatives across this campus. We are each so grateful that we are able to do the work that we do. Thank you for coming to our events, supporting your friends’ art, reading our interviews, watching our videos, and for sticking with us. Most importantly, thank you for being a part of our community.

With love,
India, Margaret, Eliza, Nia, Colby, Elle, Mohar, Nico, Morgana, and Maya

Liberty’s updated statement, posted Friday evening:

“Here’s an update with the Ratrock Magazine plagiarism. First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for all the support. I appreciate it a lot.

I met with Ratrock today to discuss everything, and upon this discussion it’s come to light that the plagiarism was not deliberate but due to incompetence within the publication. As Ratrock stated in a Facebook post that I was not tagged in, they will delete the article and publish a statement approved by me as per my demands. Yesterday afternoon Ratrock emailed me the statement and I am currently working on it with them. They have been cooperative throughout this process.

I’ll explain why the plagiarism was due to incompetence: The artist who was interviewed, Jazmin Maco, offered to use my finished article when organizing the logistics of her interview with Ratrock’s content editor because she liked my work. Jazmin said that she would put me in contact with Ratrock if they were to use my article, but would be happy to do another interview again. The content editor read my article and enjoyed it, but said that she preferred for one of Ratrock’s writers, Courtney DeVita, to interview Jazmin. This interview went underway, but the audio was unfortunately unusable so Courtney conducted an email interview with Jazmin. Jazmin thought that Courtney’s questions were too broad and pulled questions from my interview without my knowledge or approval. Thinking that these new questions were written by Jazmin, Courtney submitted the article to the content editor. The content editor failed to recognize reading the same set of four specific questions twice before allowing the article to be published.

Courtney, therefore, had not read my original article. I was not aware of this convoluted backstory when I saw the plagiarism, so the only logical explanation I could think of was that Courtney plagiarized my interview because my work was credited to her. As well as clarifying this at the meeting, Courtney has personally reached out to me about this, which I appreciate. I want to publicly apologize for calling her a plagiarist. For this reason, I will edit out this part of my original post with a note at the top acknowledging the edit and how Courtney did not know what happened.

I would like to add that what led to the plagiarism has nothing to do with me. I did the work that I was commissioned to do at a standard that was pleasing to BBB@B, the artists I interviewed, and Ratrock, which was my aim. I’m only explaining what happened because the plagiarism was not deliberate like I originally thought and was instead due to incompetence. I must clarify this, particularly because I incorrectly accused Courtney of plagiarism. But as far as I’m concerned, I went onto a publication’s website that I was not affiliated with and saw my work almost word for word credited to someone else. I just do not want my hard work to be plagiarized.

I look forward to working with Ratrock to have my demands met and moving on from this issue.

Photo via Ratrock Facebook

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  • cLassicLumbia says:

    @cLassicLumbia plagiarism so shameful

  • Literally thought says:

    @Literally thought when reading this that the Ratrock published questions would draw upon the same themes as the original written by Liberty or paraphrase her main ideas but no they’re literally word for word wtf this is shameless

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous @bwog You should stick an editor’s note immediately after the sentence of the article that attributes DeVita with the plagiarized questions. It’s misleading to clarify in an update at the bottom of a long article that DeVita didn’t plagiarize. Please make sure that people skimming the top paragraphs of the article don’t get the wrong idea about DeVita–she’s already been blasted on FaceBook for this ://

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous “Thinking that these new questions were written by Jazmin, Courtney submitted the article to the content editor.”

    Okay….so let me get this straight…Courtney submitted an article with her name on it even though she assumed that Jazmin had interviewed herself?

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