For some journalists, diversity training might be a requirement

Having to deal with an angry or offended reader is not uncommon for collegepublications editors. 

Some student publications, however, are beingpressured by school administrators and offended readers to put their staffsthrough diversity training in an attempt to avoid covering sensitive issues thewrong way.

At Southwest Missouri State University, a group ofminority students lashed out against editors of The Standard, a studentnewspaper on campus, because of an editorial cartoon that appeared in thenewspaper that they found to be “offensive.”

The cartoon, which waspublished a week before Thanksgiving, depicted two American Indians intraditional headdress and one Pilgrim gathering for Thanksgiving dinner. One ofthe Pilgrims, speaking to another said, “Gladys, the Indians are here andit looks like they brought corn again.” 

Members of the AmericanIndian student group filed a complaint with the university’s Office ofEqual Opportunity, which is responsible for investigating violations of theschool’s anti-discriminatory policy. The university policy statesthat no university office or university-sponsored activity can discriminate onthe basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age,disability or veteran status.

The students called for the firing of theadviser and editor, as well as mandatory diversity training for the entirenewspaper staff.

While the university has not enforced any punishment onthe newspaper staff because of the incident, it requested that the newspaper’seditor and adviser meet with students about the incident. The editor of thenewspaper eventually went through mediation with the group — but aresolution was not reached. 

“When I first ran it, I wondered aboutit,” said Mandy Phillips, editor of the student newspaper. “But itwas a Thanksgiving cartoon that dealt with modern Thanksgiving issues and it ranin the issue right before Thanksgiving break.”

Those opposed to thecartoon say it was discriminatory because the American Indians were portrayed instereotypical feathered headdress and face paint. 

“I can’tapologize for everything that goes across the editorial page — it’san editorial cartoon,” Phillips said. “If there had been some levelof stereotyping or racism that I had overlooked, I would haveapologized.”

Phillips gave the American Indian student group spacein the newspaper to write a response to the cartoon and has published everyletter to the editor on the subject. She said running the cartoon was “notunethical and has been handled exceptionally well” by the newspaperstaff.

Greg Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy for theFoundation for Individual Rights in Education, said school administrators areviolating students’ rights if they force them to go through diversity training.He said it is “a violation of their right to cover issues the way theyplease.”

“The university should feel free to offer advice to newspapers,but when it comes to any program that would encourage [student journalists] notto cover topics on sensitive issues, or cover them in a particular way, that isinfringing on the freedom of the student press,” Lukianoff said.

Byforcing student journalists into a situation where the feel they need toapologize, school administrators are trying to say “you will be held accountablefor anything that any student ever finds objectionable, even if in some casesthe students may be overreacting,” Lukianoff said. 

“Almost any stancethat a [newspaper] can take, any editorial it could take, an [opinion piece]that a student writes, is going to offend somebody,” Lukianoff said. “Freedom ofspeech, at moments, is at its best … when it does displease somepeople.”

Editors at a student newspaper at the University ofHawaii have began screening cartoons more closely after it receivedobjections to a cartoon it had printed in the newspaper.

The AfroAmerican Lawyers Association of Hawaii was offended by a cartoon that wasprinted in the Ka Leo O Hawaii, a student newspaper at the university, inFebruary that referred to the NAACP as the “National Alliance of Assailants ofColored People,” according to the Honolulu Advertiser.

The newspaper’sboard of publications approved three recommendations that would mandate trainingfor the board and its program heads; specific training for all cartoonistsbefore their work is published; and oversight of all cartoons by two editorsbefore publication, the newspaper reported.

Since the incident, anewspaper employee said the newspaper’s editor in chief has been reviewing eachcartoon before it is printed.”Setting up a mandatory ‘educationalprogram’ for the newspaper … is a form of punishment,” Lukianoff said. “Inorder to engage in journalism, students should not be required to go to any formof indoctrination or any forum of ideological training.”