WISCONSIN –Succumbing to pressure by student press advocates, the student government at aWisconsin university said it would not attempt to limit the distribution of acampus satire magazine Wednesday.
The Student Association Senate atthe University of Wisconsin at La Crosse reversed a resolution it passed onMarch 29 limiting the number of copies TheSecond Supper Alternative News was allowed to distribute on campus. Thepublication normally distributes 2,000 copies; the resolution would have reducedthe number to 60.
The resolution was in response to an articleprinted in the paper that parodied Vice President Dick Cheney’s huntingfiasco where he accidentally shot one of his friends.
The sentencefrom the article that sparked outrage in the senate said, ”When he shot atsome thought-to-be-bloods, he was actually shooting at individuals who Mr.Cheney referred to as ‘his very bestniggaz.”’
”People are sort of shocked by [the word
‘nigga’] regardless of the context,” said Joe Gullo, editor inchief of the paper. ”I don’t think the solution was to limit us orreprimand us, the solution is discourse.”
The reversal was avictory for Gullo and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, anonprofit organization based in Philadelphia that intervened on behalf of thepaper.
”Initially the first resolution that was introduced inthe student senate was one that would bar us from being a studentorganization,” Gullo said. ”Then they came up with the resolution tolimit our distribution.”
Gullo compromised with the senate toraise the limit from 60 to 900 at first because he feared that the low numberwould be detrimental to the paper’s relationship with its advertisers, hesaid. Once dissenting senators informed him that the senate’s actions werea violation of the First Amendment, he said he contacted FIRE.
FIREwrote a letter to the university chancellor on April 13 asking him to reversethe resolution and cease the censorship of the paper. By Wednesday, the senateconceded and issued a statement saying: ”After much deliberation betweenpeople throughout the Student Association office, understanding the FederalConstitution, and accepting the fact that our position, even if upheld byStudent Court, will not be upheld by the UW-System or State law, we…relinquish our legislation limiting distribution of theThe Second Supper Alternative News across campus.”
Although the senate acknowledged that it couldnot censor the Supper, Student SenatePresident AJ Clauss said that the paper ”was making life difficult for alot of students.”
”[The use of the term ‘niggaz’] could be considered borderline hate speech,” Clauss said. ”We had numerous students of color come in and complain, ‘Whatis the student association going to do for us?’ We feel diversity isextremely important on our campus.”
Clauss said that use of theword ”niggaz” was offensive, even in a satirical context. She saidthe senate was looking to protect minority students with the failed resolution.She also said she does not see the Supper as a satirical paper.
The senate has no further plans to legislate against theSupper, Clauss said. But she said theStudent Association is trying to put together forums to ”talk about whatis hate speech and what is free speech.”
”Satire andparody are vital, effective, and very strongly protected forms of politicalspeech. Unfortunately they are under constant attack on today’s collegecampuses,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in a statement. ”UW-Ldid the right thing by vindicating its students’ rights to expressthemselves in these time-honored ways.”
The paper is alreadyfunded entirely by ads and has extended its offices off campus, Gullo said. Thepaper retains its student organization status because that status allows them todistribute the publication to a larger audience, he said.
”If we could fulfill that niche and keep that readership up without having to keepthat tie on campus, that would be great,” he said.