By RightsViews Co-Editor Noah Smith
I recently spoke with Tabitha Boyton, founder & editor-in-chief of Res Publica, a highly commended interdisciplinary magazine of politics, law, art and culture led by student and volunteer contributors across the globe. The fundamental goal of Res Publica is to provide an engaging as well as an academically rigorous platform where ideas and concepts of interest to the public at large can be debated and explored. What is particularly unique about Res Publica is their attempt to bridge the gap between the academic and unscholarly on all things political. Helping to show how even in the age of Twitter mobs and sloganeering it is still possible to have serious thought and discussion over the things that matter. I spoke with Tabitha to query what inspired her to establish this magazine and the privileges and challenges she faces as a young activist.
Tell me a little about yourself, and what motivated you to found Res Publica?
Thank you so much for having me today – it’s honestly such a privilege. By way of a short introduction, I am a third-year Law and Politics Student with interests in art, history, philosophy, and event coordination. I began Res Publica over a year ago after encountering sexism and racism in and out of my professional life. Although it was really tough at the time – looking back at what we have built as a team, it is incredible; the team currently consists of over 30 people from Cyprus, to New York, Guatemala, San Marino, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, France, Germany and seven more.
Having been educated at The Cheltenham Ladies’ College under Ms. Eve Jardine-Young, a school that is centered around global interdisciplinary excellence, independence, and critical thinking, I had been involved in contributing to academic blogs and think tanks such as Discuss4Change, which seeks to expose, engage and empower students from all backgrounds to simultaneously debate local and global issues. This gave me a phenomenal foundation and some basic editorial experience that was instrumental to the formation of Res Publica.
In just over a year, we have published over 100 academics, students and activists, from top universities (Oxford University, Northwestern University, Columbia University, The London School of Economics, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and many more). Grounded in global collaboration and intersectionality we have created a community that reaches over 100 countries, hosted conferences with the likes of Peter Tatchell, and are providing mentoring via workshops for aspiring journalists, lawyers, and politicians. In September, we hosted a number of authors and journalists for our community to get some hands-on practical experience and advice including: Genelle Aldred, Jennifer Nadel, Toon Vos, and Kyrill Hartog. In short, Res Publica is engaging, informative and provides some genuinely thought-provoking socio-political commentary and opinion pieces.
What have been some of the challenges of running an online magazine and being a student?
I have had no formal training in journalism, nor graphic or website design but had to self-teach over the summer of 2020 to get everything in order for the start of the academic year. It was as basic as this: I asked my parents for some money to buy a website and publishing software. Whilst my mother was in the hospital recovering from surgery; she – and the whole ward – probably wanted stronger sleep medication after I restarted another YouTube tutorial for the 15th time.
That being said, it was hugely rewarding to get stuck in and start hustling for speakers, authors, activists, and artists. I am hugely grateful to the Northeastern University Women Who Empower Network and the support of Betsy Ludwig for their continual support and commitment to the Res Publica journey.
Admittedly, it has been a little challenging to stay motivated when others have shamelessly plagiarized content and designs that the team has worked tirelessly on for months. Ultimately, it’s imperative for – particularly creatives – to distinguish between gaining inspiration and blatant imitation.
What impact has Res Publica had on its readership? Has it made them more knowledgeable of human rights and politically literate?
At the very least, I hope that our podcasts, daily posts, stories, thematic long-form issues, and interviews are sparking debates that are rich in depth and diversity alongside giving – particularly marginalised individuals the confidence to actually use their voice and effectively convey their views. Our podcasts alone discuss everything from punk art to Nigerian youth culture, OnlyFans, intersectional feminism, and Latin American corruption.
We understand the media landscape and the way younger people engage with current affairs is ever-changing and at times unpredictable. We have therefore decided to create various channels and mediums of communication through which we engage with our readers. There is our monthly issue, with long-form analysis, review, and opinion content. There are our daily social media posts on topical events and our podcast. We prioritise linking together reporting and analysis in as accessible a way as possible to reach a range of online audiences. Crucially, we use this as a forum to engage critically with issues of media literacy amongst both our volunteers and followers. We believe this enhances both the impact of our long-form content and the capabilities of our team.
There are many online magazines focusing on art, culture, politics, and human rights. What makes Res Publica unique?
Unlike other student publications, we care little for the ‘gonzo journalism’ of petty university scandals and poor attempts at investigative journalism or ‘breaking news.’ Instead, Res Publica actually involves students and academics answering complex questions about difficult topics that challenge our readers to think for themselves. Though we understand that there are no universally shared opinions, we refuse to see this as an impediment in building dialogue simultaneously across partisan and sectional lines. It’s really about bridging the gap between the academically decorated and the political laity. We have put a focus on this and have executed 11 successful collaborations with over 15 institutions; most notably our Latin American Expert Panel with Kings’ College London!
Last year we launched a podcast series called “Common Ground”, this aims to bring representatives of two diametrically opposed stances on any topic of choice, encouraging both sides to find points of agreement, from which they may subsequently explore what it is that causes disagreements or conflict amongst them, ranging from the historical, social, and personal dimensions of discourse and deliberation. The podcast, therefore, completes the circle in manifesting our beliefs in intellectual rigour, the value of accessibility, and our aspiration to explore these while building the confidence and calibre of our team and readers in unsettling and unprecedented times.
Do you believe online platforms like Res publica are the future of human rights advocacy & education?
Ultimately our values are simple and universal: access to knowledge for all and the challenging of the notion that an opinion is invalid if held by someone who is not academically highly decorated. As aforementioned, we reject breaking news, we are eradicating the episodic nature with which events are reported on and consumed currently in order to allow for stories to outlive the news cycle. We firmly believe that the topics we choose to focus on are not only relevant but deserve greater and more in-depth attention which mainstream media is currently failing to provide.
What are some of Res Publica’s greatest achievements thus far?
Having our first print anniversary issue was a huge milestone for my personal journey with the magazine. There’s a lot that goes into concepts, themes, designs and I am really pleased with the way we have expanded. I am grateful for the support of my lecturers who have been incredibly generous with their time and effort, namely: Dr. Sara Raimondi, Dr. Marianna Koli, Ms. Ursula Smartt, Dr. Pablo Calderon-Martinez. Professor Anthony Grayling’s mentorship and pursuit of all things interdisciplinary have clearly made a lasting impression.
It was phenomenal and humbling to have actually received some recognition from the likes of JP Morgan, Rate My Placement, GROW Mentoring, Travers Smith LLP, the Cheltenham Ladies’ College, and the Student Publication Association.
What are your future plans for the magazine?
Now you’re really putting me on the spot! I was never very academic growing up (my TomBoy-ness and dyslexia probably didn’t help) and it took a lot of encouragement from very close friends, family, and teachers to really come out of my shell and gain confidence in my academic work. It wasn’t really until I found my little niche of interest that I really flourished and was able to seize and make opportunities for myself.
I am incredibly ecstatic for our upcoming collaborative issue ‘The Scope of Things’ with Phi Magazine touching on everything from horoscopes, spirituality, and space. Keep your eyes peeled for more details on our social media @respublicapolitics!
As you’ve probably gathered by now, I am hugely passionate about helping young people and I am hoping that the mentoring program and Res Publica as a whole, is a way for me to pay it forward and help others!
Photos courtesy of Tabitha Boyton