INDIANA — For the third time this spring semester, an editorialcartoon in a college newspaper upset students who complained thatits contents were racially insensitive.
The latest incident occurred at Purdue University in West Lafayette,where The Exponent‘s April 4 publication of a cartoon aboutslave reparations sparked protest from black student groups.
Provocative cartoons had previously caused an uproar amongstudents at Texas A&M University and Syracuse University,in January and February, respectively.
In those instances, the offending drawings were authored bystudents. The cartoon in The Exponent was drawn by PatOliphant, winner of the 1967 Pulitzer Prize and the most widelysyndicated political cartoonist in the world, according to theUnited Press Syndicate.
The cartoon, which ran in The New York Times and TheWashington Post among other national publications, depicteda four-frame conversation between Abraham Lincoln and one of hisadvisers on the topic of slave reparations. Lincoln is seen offeringex-slaves civil rights, affirmative action and "all sortsof other preferential entitlements" but the adviser tellshim "They want all that and the money." In thecorner, Oliphant’s trademark penguin adds sarcastically, "Theyalso demand the Academy Awards."
On April 8, the Black Student Union at Purdue held a pressconference along with representatives from the Black GraduateAssociation to express indignation that The Exponent hadrun the cartoon.
"What offended me was the fact that it [depicted] African-Americansbegging for what the cartoon made it seem like they didn’t alreadydeserve," Black Student Union President Chrystal Westerhaussaid. "I’m not saying that African-Americans deserve affirmativeaction or preferential treatment, but what I’m saying is thatwe don’t beg for these things; they’re given to us."
Editor Dave Stephens met with a group of concerned studentsand faculty members on April 5 and then apologized in an April 8 editorial.
"Because the cartoon is nationally syndicated," Stephenswrote, "we printed it without critically thinking about theimpact it would have or the message it portrayed. In doing this,we were wrong. The cartoon was offensive, hurtful and prejudicial.The cartoon was not reflective of the students at Purdue or theclimate at Purdue."
"It wasn’t so much the cartoon itself," Stephenstold the SPLC. "[The student groups’] major complaints werethat we hadn’t adequately covered [the topic of] slave reparationsin the paper at all." Stephens also noted that a March 29column titled "Race tarnishes Academy Awards," whichhad mistakenly appeared outside the opinion section of the paper,was another source of anger among the student groups. Stephens’April 8 editorial also apologized for that article.
Stephens said he plans to organize focus groups of Purdue studentsfor The Exponent staff to talk about issues of concernto the student body.
These steps have not satisfied some of those who protestedthe cartoon.
"I think [Oliphant’s strip] should be cut out of our schoolnewspaper," Westerhaus said. "I don’t think it’s a verywelcoming thing for a school to have in their newspaper."
Stephens said he would not cancel the paper’s subscription toOliphant’s cartoons.
"I [decided to keep printing Oliphant cartoons] to allowdifferent viewpoints to run [in the paper]," Stephens said."He is sometimes insensitive but I think he offers a lotof different opinions on a lot of different subjects and he doesit well. I mean he’s won a Pulitzer Prize, he’s a very well-respectedcartoonist and I think there’s no reason to remove him from ourpaper."
View syndicated cartoonist Pat Oliphant’s drawing that appeared in The Exponent, courtesy of uComics.