MISSOURI — A Southwest Missouri StateUniversity office that investigates violations of the school’santi-discrimination policy has asked the student newspaper editor and adviser togo through mediation with an American Indian student group after its membersfiled a complaint about a cartoon that appeared in the paper.The cartoondepicted two American Indians in traditional dress and one Pilgrim gathering forThanksgiving dinner. One of the Pilgrims, speaking to another, said,”Gladys, the Indians are here and it looks like they brought corn again.” The cartoon, which was published Nov. 21, was labeled “The 2ndThanksgiving.”Following the cartoon’s publication, Mandy Phillips,The Standard‘s editor, and Wanda Brandon, TheStandard‘s adviser, were contacted by SMSU’s Office of EqualOpportunity. They went to a meeting to hear about the complaint and were toldthat they could not have a copy of the complaint or know who filed it.Inthe December meeting, Phillips and Brandon were told the complaining partywanted the advisor and editor fired, the staff to go through diversity training,the paper to devote one page periodically to multicultural or American Indianissues and the paper to issue an apology.Brandon said she tried toexplain during the meeting that as the newspaper advisor she has no control overthe content of the newspaper.”Our bylaws forbid me from makingdecisions about content,” Brandon said in an interview last week. ”Icannot be held responsible for the cartoon.”Phillips said sheapproves all editorial cartoons before they are published and in an editorialexplained the cartoon in question as ”a nod to modern Thanksgivingtraditions surrounding how families tend to stick with the same foods and thesame cooks year after year.””When I first ran it, I wonderedabout it,” Phillips said. ”But it was a Thanksgiving cartoon thatdealt with modern Thanksgiving issues and it ran in the issue right beforeThanksgiving break.”But those opposed to the cartoon say it isdiscriminatory and offensive because the American Indians were portrayed instereotypical feathered headdress and face paint. Stephen Fullerton, presidentof the American Indian Leaders of Today and Tomorrow, said the cartoon is alsooffensive because it shows ”a big fat white Pilgrim woman and scrawnyIndians.”Fullerton, one of the members who filed the complaint,said the use of American Indian spiritual items, such as corn and eaglefeathers, is cultural discrimination.The newspaper ”owes theAmerican Indian population, as well as the larger student body, an apology forthe inaccurate and untimely reporting of Native American Heritage and for thisstunningly poor taste cartoon,” Fullerton wrote in a column for TheStandard.Phillips said no apology would run in thenewspaper.”I can’t apologize for everything that goes acrossthe editorial page — it’s an editorial cartoon,” Phillipssaid. ”If there had been some level of stereotyping or racism that I hadoverlooked, I would have apologized.”She said she believes this isa case of political correctness gone too far. The newspaper gave the AmericanIndian student group space in the newspaper to write a response to the cartoonand has published every letter to the editor on the subject.Phillipssaid that running the cartoon was ”not unethical and has been handledexceptionally well” by the newspaper staff.”I hope theadministration realizes they have no legal grounds to take any kind of legalaction,” Phillips said. She said being forced to comply with thecomplaining party’s requests would be ”unconstitutional andillegal.”Phillips said the complaint process is at a standstilluntil the mediation meeting is scheduled. Brandon refuses to participate in themediation. ”We had this meeting, and it didn’t resolve theproblem,” Phillips said. ”Next is a mediationprocess.”Jana Estergard, the school’s equal opportunityofficer, said she could not comment on the complaint. She said the office doesnot hand down disciplinary actions; it only investigates complaints. Estergardsaid most complaints are resolved through mediation. If a compromisecannot be reached during mediation, the next step would be a formal hearing withthe Office of Equal Opportunity. At the formal hearing, the advisor and editorwould be given a copy of the complaint and the complainant would beidentified.Estergard said following a formal hearing, the Office ofEqual Opportunity makes recommendations to school administrators about pursuingdisciplinary action.
View the cartoon here.