Minn., Colo. papers apologize for controversial content in parody issues

Satirical, politically charged content has made an impressionon college campuses this year, leading to policy changes, apologiesand even the resignation of two student editors.

Black students expressed outrage at The Minnesota Daily‘s decision to run this cartoon in a parody issue (click for larger image).

At the University of Minnesota it has been a long-standingtradition to lampoon campus figures and issues in the finals weekedition of The Minnesota Daily. This year, the jokeswent a little too far in the eyes of some readers. In particular,one cartoon that many black students found to be offensive.

The cartoon, titled “Thuggish Ruggish,” portrayeda young, black man who denies he impregnated a girlfriend, thenaccuses her of being promiscuous.

The cartoon sparked protests by students, including membersof the New Black Panther Party and Africana. The protesting studentsrequested a formal apology and asked the Daily to terminatecartoonist Mike DeArmond.

Current editor Todd Milbourn said steps are already being madeto address sensitivity at the newspaper. He also said, to hisknowledge, DeArmond left the paper on his own accord. Former editorMike Wereschagin, who was editor at the time the cartoon ran andhas since finished his term, issued an apology for the cartoonon the Daily‘s Web site.

“This cartoon was crude and irresponsible. … It wasn’t clearwhat the political, social comment was,” Milbourn said. “[Thenewspaper has] met several times with a group of students, whoare representing those who were offended by the cartoon. And we’replanning to meet with them on a regular basis. This was just oneerrant oversight.”

This year’s finals week edition was not the first one thathad caused concern among readers. A 1983 case, Stanley v. McGrath,decided before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the EighthCircuit was prompted by the board of regents’ displeasure witha finals week issue. The university tried to alter funding forthe Daily by allowing students to request a refund of thepart of their fee that went to the newspaper. The court ruledthat the university’s action violated the First Amendment.

Milbourn said he is taking steps to make future issuesbetter.

“It’s just a sophomoric effort. We’re talking right nowabout different ways to do that issue,” he said. “We’rereally hoping to go forward. It’s unfortunate because the Dailyis very much committed to increasing understanding and reflectingdiverse viewpoints in the paper. It’s unfortunate that this iskind of what sticks out, and not the Daily‘s larger bodyof work, which we’re quite proud of and committed to continuing.”

In a similar case, the editors of the Catalyst studentnewspaper at Colorado College resigned following an AprilFool’s Day issue that garnered heavy criticism.

Editor Audrey Thompson and managing editor John Traub resignedin April as part of several initiatives instituted by the schoolfollowing the Catalyst‘s April 1 issue. The issue containedan article about a fictional black “sister channel”of Nickelodeon that used racial parodies for its name, and anarticle that was deemed demeaning to Asian women. The Black StudentUnion expressed its concerns and unhappiness about the issue,and prompted the college president, Kathryn Mohrman to issue aformal apology and the editors to tender their resignation.

The Rocky Mountain News reported in April that studentsand college officials were planning to consider the formationof a task force to recruit more minorities, and whether to requiremandatory diversity training for faculty members.

Provocative cartoons caused an uproar among students at Texas A&M University, Syracuse University and Purdue University this semester. Editors at Wayne State University also came under fire for a column that ran in the student newspaper.

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