A recap of Tuesday’s Heckler forum, with written reactions from Todd Olson and students
Stuef speaks at last night’s forum
Heckler Editor-in-Chief Jack Stuef (COL ’10) answered questions and tried to explain his point of view on a recent controversial Heckler issue at a forum Tuesday night, while students debated the articles and expressed why they were offended by the satirical articles.
Copies of the Heckler’s article about Hoya staff members holding a Ku Klux Klan-like crossburning were passed out before the forum, and much of the conversation centered on that article.
“The KKK isn’t funny,” Stuef said. “The article is to take the situation to the extreme, to show what is maybe buried in this campus.”
Stuef said that he was sorry for offending anyone, but added that with satire, offending people “comes with the terrain.”
LaMarr Q. Billups, Georgetown’s Assistant Vice President for Business Policy Planning, argued that the Heckler should not have used the picture of a KKK crossburning for the article because its hurtful power.
“This is an image that is deeply rooted in our souls,” Billups said. “In my own lifetime, thousands of people were lynched. Cross were burned in people’s actual yards.”
Some students said they were offended by an article about the Black Student Alliance. In the article, the BSA asks Georgetown’s students not to do anything racist while BSA members are at Howard, because no one will be at Georgetown to notice and protest racism. Students at the forum thought the article suggested BSA protests, like last April’s against the Hoya April Fool’s Issue, were baseless.
Stuef argued that, rather than making fun of BSA protests, it celebrated minority students for noticing racism that white students would miss.
“I hope you see you’re the heroes of this piece,” Stuef told one BSA member.
Stuef also argued that he was concerned students who were not regular Heckler readers were taking lines from controversial articles out of context. When he asked audience members to raise their hands if they had read the Heckler before the latest issue, about four people raised their hands, according to his estimate. There were about 50 people at the forum.
At one point, student Frances Davila (’10) read an e-mail from Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson about the latest issue of the Heckler. “I have consulted with senior colleagues and we condemn these attempts at humor,” Olson wrote (rest of the e-mail below). Heckler writer Ankit Goyal (SFS ’12) said that the Heckler’s four staff writers had a meeting with Olson on Thursday.
In the e-mail, Olson stresses that the Heckler is not affiliated with the University. Still, Professor Marilyn McMorrow was concerned about the Heckler’s use of Georgetown in its name.
“You’re using a name that belongs to all of us,” she said.
Other parts of the discussion centered on how the Heckler issue was different from the Hoya’s April Fool’s Issue. Hoya Editor-in-Chief Marissa Amendolia (COL ’11) said she thought the controversies were different because the Hoya reaches a larger audience.
Some students focused on other groups they thought were attacked in articles about hate crimes or the “Cuddler” sexual assaults. Martine Randolph (SFS ’12), said she was concerned about Hoya staffers criticized in Heckler articles inspired by the April Fool’s Issue, like the article about the imagined cross burning.
“I wouldn’t want people thinking I’m a racist because of the organization I’m associated with,” she said.
Looking to the future, participants suggested more education about diversity issues. Assistant Vice President Billups said he thought an Onion staff writer could come talk to students about satire, while John Lewis (COL ’11) suggested optional diversity training offered to all groups operating on Georgetown’s campus. Lewis also asked Stuef to issue a written apology, if he felt that he should.
Earlier today, a student press release about the Heckler (below) called for closer monitoring by the Media Board as a possible solution, but the Board does not actually supervise the Heckler since it is not a University-funded publication.
Still, other students were concerned that some of the students they want to attend diversity or “anti-oppression” workshops, as one audience member suggested, would not come.
“It’s not because of finals [that they're not here],” said Margaret McLaughlin (SFS ’10). “It’s because they don’t care to be part of the discussion.” Other forum participants complained about the attitudes of internet commenters, including some from Vox Populi.
By the end of the forum, much of the discussion centered around what participants saw as a racist atmosphere at Georgetown and how to use the Heckler controversy to change it permanently.
“Let’s make it real,” Jheannelle Brown (SFS ’10) said.
Reporting by Imani Tate
Photo by Molly Redden
E-mail from Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson about the controversy:
As Vice President for Students Affairs, I am deeply troubled by numerous concerns that have been expressed to me recently about some offensive material published by students on a website unaffiliated with the University. I have consulted with senior colleagues, and we condemn these attempts at humor which ridicule people based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation and which promote violence. The events documented in an attempt at satire are in reality fictional, and the stories are deeply hurtful and potentially destructive to the fabric of our campus community.
As a Catholic and Jesuit institution we are called to a higher standard. We place great importance on open dialogue and the free exchange of ideas, but offensive and inaccurate language does nothing to further this mission. I respect the majority of students and members of our campus community who recognize the harmful nature of abusing truth in the name of satire. At Georgetown we seek to foster a community of respect, tolerance and inclusion in our words, deeds and actions.
Press release issued by student John Lewis and Elizabeth Gunderson on behalf of students offended by Heckler articles, featuring criticism of the articles by students, professors, and alumni:
GEORGETOWN STUDENTS NOT AMUSED BY FAILED ATTEMPT AT RACIAL SATIRE
Allusions to KKK cross-burnings, lynchings, and fire hosing in a Georgetown “humor” publication shock and disgust Georgetown community
After three years of controversy surrounding racial discrimination in Georgetown student publications, sparks of frustration have finally burst into flames of outrage. On Saturday, the Georgetown Heckler, “Georgetown University’s Humor Magazine of Record,” published a horrifyingly offensive article in which writers of The Hoya, Georgetown’s major newspaper, were portrayed as dressing in white robes, burning a cross, “hanging dark, human-shaped piñatas” from trees, performing in Blackface, and shooting a fire hose at Black Student Alliance members. The article comes just months after a major campaign against the racist April Fools edition of The Hoya, which culminated in a student-led sit-in at their offices following the issue’s publication. The Heckler clearly intends to trivialize the legitimate concerns that minority students have concerning their repeated marginalization in major campus news sources and, with its references to racist torture and murder, completely mocks and demeans the legacy and sacrifices of the struggle for civil rights in the United States.
The article came as a shock for many student activists, who have made great strides in advocating for diversity and inclusion in all aspects of campus life, only to face such a blatantly disrespectful attack. Student Ayesha Ibrahim states that “as a freshman at a world-renowned institution I never imagined such racist and ignorant actions would occur. I am truly ashamed and disappointed in the students who contributed to the article.” The fact that The Heckler carries Georgetown’s name is shameful to a university which prides itself in the Jesuit ideals of “faith and justice” and “community in diversity.” As Sociology Professor Joseph Palacios argues, “Putting a burning KKK cross as a Christmas symbol is not only racist but an insult to Christians and the values of Georgetown. If this is supposed to be a humorous reaction to political correctness then one has to wonder how low one needs to go to create political humor. The editors and the writers need to do a self-examination of their deeply rooted racism, anger and sarcasm, and anti-Christian attitudes.”
Students not only feel personally attacked on account of their identity, but are also shocked at the general level of intolerance among their fellow classmates. NAACP Chapter President Jheanelle Brown says that “at the end of the day, The Heckler’s article made me sick to my stomach. I… felt that my Black body became a site for White (and non-Black) students to negotiate their twisted notions under the guise of satire. The nonsense has got to stop.” In a similar sentiment, Student Commission for Unity founder Brian Kesten states, “It is unacceptable that Georgetown’s media has devolved into satirical expressions of racism and ignorance. No group should be allowed to make a career out of trivializing hate and sex crimes.”
Alums have already begun voicing their outrage concerning this critical issue. 2009 graduate Katherine Harripersaud argues that “what’s more alarming is the absolute disrespect for the history and culture of fellow students. Regardless of intent, this article was offensive…As a recent alum and member of the students of color community it angers me that such an article was written and disseminated to the Georgetown community.” Truman Scholar and 2008 graduate Indra Sen expresses his horror: “As an alum, I am disgusted and incensed by the insensitivity of the Georgetown Heckler and those responsible for printing this article. Of course the administration should issue the consequences, but given that this is an ongoing pattern, these students should attend mandatory diversity training. For the larger issue, the student body should attend diversity training that goes beyond a one-day event.”
Professor Aviel Roshwald, Chair of Georgetown’s History Department, also suggested solutions and immediate demands: “I am convinced that The Heckler has in fact flagrantly crossed beyond all limits of tolerance by publishing a piece that can readily be understood to glorify violence against minorities, and thereby to encourage it. …The First Amendment protects The Heckler’s write to publish brainless filth. The First Amendment also protects Georgetown University’s right to dissociate itself from a mouthpiece for hate-mongering.”
Student activists are demanding a proper retraction and apology from The Heckler, as well as removal of the Georgetown name and insignia from the publication and its website. In addition, concerned students are demanding a revision of the Media Board’s procedures and guidelines concerning student publications, in order to ensure that publications are checked thoroughly to avoid unabashed bigotry. This petition is supported by leaders of Georgetown’s NAACP and MEChA Chapters, Patrick Healy Fellows, Asian American Student Association, United Feminists, Student Commission for Unity, and others. Students, unwilling to allow this issue to get swept under the rug, are raising awareness and standing up for a campus environment that celebrates diversity and welcomes all people.