When truth can’t be in the eye of the beholder

We regret to inform our readers that we are retracting an article in Issue 5 of the Sonoma State STAR titled “Student Spotlight: Dominick Finley,” which contained numerous questionable claims and factual errors. The article told a compelling story of a popular student at Sonoma State, divulging his personal tragedies, his successful comedic career with Comedy Central and his volunteer involvement on campus and around the area.

As it turns out, according to the SSU admissions office Finley is not and has never been a registered student, staff or faculty member on this campus. Furthermore, he is not, as he claimed in the profile, a coach for our track and field team, nor a basketball coach for Rincon Valley High School. In fact, there is no school by that name – there’s Rincon Valley Christian School, but the athletic director said no one with that name has ever been employed or volunteered as an official coach. The director said that someone who fit Finley’s description had volunteered once or twice a few years ago, but that was the extent of his involvement.

Meanwhile, whether Finley is actually a signed comedian with Comedy Central remains unconfirmed as well. Neither Finley nor Comedy Central have responded to repeated phone calls or emails from the STAR asking for confirmation of this claim.

We value factual accuracy at the STAR. We take full responsibility for our errors and have used this significantly large mistake as a lesson to do our homework and fact-check. We sincerely apologize for any misconceptions or confusion this article has caused. 

As reporters as well as students, we have faith in our fellow Seawolves and tend to hope that our article subjects would be honest and realistic about describing their personal lives. Unfortunately, we received a (well-deserved) rude awakening that blind trust is not always as solid as we’d like it to be. We also now understand the great importance of fact-checking our stories – even for light student profiles, such as this was.

But along with our commitment to factual journalism, however, comes another important issue: how do we recognize when an outsider is posing as a student by attending classes, participating in extra-curricular activities and befriending other students, but isn’t actually a student? 

As it turns out, we at the STAR are apparently not the first to raise questions about this particular “student.” But given his popularity with many people on this campus, it’s hard to imagine that his lack of enrollment was widely known.

We don’t know what we should and shouldn’t believe about this man, and we don’t know why he chose to mislead our reporter. And it’s not up to us to make that decision. But we have learned a hard lesson in recognizing that other people who have the similar ability to mislead and pretend to be someone they’re not to someone’s face are out there.

We find it disturbing that someone was so easily able to disguise themselves and act like a student, and it makes us wonder if there are any other people on this campus doing the same thing. 

But the truth is Sonoma State is an open campus that welcomes many visitors throughout each semester for various events, tours or classes, and there is realistically no way for anyone to monitor who should and shouldn’t be here.

And with soon-to-open facilities such as the Student Center, the MasterCard Pavilion and the nearby Graton Resort and Casino, as well as the existing Green Music Center, Sonoma State is quickly becoming a much more centralized location in Sonoma County. Though we may not attract as many visitors as UC Berkeley, students and faculty are going to have to get used to and learn how to deal with outsiders – some of whom may be misguided or have bad intentions – and how to recognize scamming and fraudulent behavior. Just yesterday, Housing Services issued a notice that “unwanted solicitors” were knocking on people’s doors in the residential community asking for donations.

Incidents like these show us that we need to keep our wits about us. We’re grown-ups now. Sometimes we’ll get fooled, taken advantage of or cheated, but experiences like these are the real lessons we take away from college. In the STAR’s case, we learned that our credibility rests on our ability to get the facts straight, do our research, and – most importantly – to bring light to the truth.