Texas A&M U. newspaper apologizes for cartoon

TEXAS — The turmoil at Texas A&M University surroundinga controversial cartoon published in the campus newspaper earlierthis month simultaneously died down and heated up on Monday.

The Battalion published this cartoon on Jan. 14, enraging some students on campus. Two weeks later, the paper apologized for running the cartoon.

The day began with The Battalion, the daily studentnewspaper, printing a formal apology for a Jan. 14 cartoon somein the school community had called racist. It ended with studentscalling for tighter regulation of the paper by the university.

In the apology, Battalion editor Mariano Castillo wrotethat the cartoon was insensitive and should not have been published.The cartoon featured a black mother and son with large lips andeyes and round bellies. The son brandished a report card marked”F” as the mother admonished, “If you ain’t careful,you gonna end up doing airport security.”

“Our silence has been misconstrued as defending racism,”Castillo was quoted as saying in The Battalion, “andI have an obligation to make clear that we realize the cartoonwas offensive and that the Battalion does not condoneracism.”

The cartoonist, senior Chad Mallam, who until this week hadbeen known only by his pseudonym, The Uncartoonist, issued noformal statement and could not be contacted by the SPLC.

The Battalion‘s acquiescence followed a two-week periodin which Castillo had refused to formally apologize for the cartoon.

“We stand behind our decision to run it,” he toldthe SPLC on Jan. 24. The paper ran an editorial on Jan. 18, titled”Reflect on MLK,” that acknowledged the campus-wideuproar the cartoon had caused and called for greater examinationof racial issues at the school without going as far as an actualapology.

Monday’s editor’s note included the sentence, “If we hadit to do over again, we would not approve this cartoon for publication.”

Castillo’s change of heart preceded a planned demonstration,which, in light of the apology, turned into a heated, midday rallycalling for greater tolerance and sensitivity for minorities.Several hundred students attended.

Later in the afternoon, Castillo met with university PresidentRay Bowen, representatives from the Houston chapter of the NationalAssociation for the Advancement of Colored People and A&M’sAfrican American Student Coalition.

After the meeting, some of the attendees called for the universityto more strictly regulate the paper.

According to The Battalion, Bereket Bisrat, spokesmanfor the student coalition, said his group wants the newspaperto require diversity training, increase the number of minoritystaff members, enhance its coverage of minority events by allowingfreelance submissions and employ an editorial consultant who wouldlook over potentially offensive material. Bisrat also said thatif The Battalion does not make certain changes, the universityshould consider removing the paper’s revenue from student fees.

Previously, the paper’s autonomy had not been challenged. Bowenhad harshly criticized the paper in a letter to the editor, whilealso acknowledging The Battalion’s First Amendment rightsto publish as it saw fit.

The Battalion is an independent, student-run newspaper,”Bowen wrote. “It enjoys the full freedom of the press thatwe celebrate in this nation. I am not writing this letter to challengethe freedom of The Battalion. But I do wish to tell youhow greatly I deplore the messages conveyed by this cartoon, whichcasts doubt on whether we are truly a welcoming place for allpeople.”

Castillo plans to hold forums so that students and the newspapercan engage in an on-going dialogue about race and diversity atthe school. He also said he has no plans to fire Mallam, whosecartoons have been accused of ethnic insensitivity several timesbefore.