A recap of Tuesday’s Heckler forum, with written reactions from Todd Olson and students

IMG_1434Stuef 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.

The article is to take the situation to the extreme. To show what Is maybe buried in this campus.

118 Comments on “A recap of Tuesday’s Heckler forum, with written reactions from Todd Olson and students

  1. @Marc
    Honestly, that Avenue Q song couldn’t be more true. Everyone’s a little bit racist/sexist/classist/all zat not so nice stuff.

  2. read through most of these comments… had a ton of finals or would have at least made an appearance and i’m not really sure how i feel about this situation. i was not personally offended by the article, though i could see why it is a contentious issue. i feel that the heckler editors were right in apologizing for offending people… and i think there needs to be some compromise on both sides

    but mostly, i wanted to say how completely INAPPROPRIATE and IRRESPONSIBLE for professors, professional adults, to go to news outlets and to wrongly call students racist in public, recorded media. i would hope that these professional adults would know enough about media today than to accuse students of racism… those kind of things don’t really go away

  3. I think if you define “lyniching” as trial by angry mob and take away the racial connotations, its shockingly clear which side got lynched here. The heckler got condemned in national media without even a cursory attempt at letting them defend themselves. the “tolerance” groups on campus have really become a caricature of themselves.

  4. As someone who actually is black, it is definitely still satire. I don’t find it racism in the least, and found it funny. It’s not like The Heckler is glorifying the KKK or lynchings, but simply making fun of the Hoya for being racist. It’s not like if the Heckler didn’t include the image of the KKK or mentions of racist actions that they would not have happened. I’d say that people who find it to be racist 1) don’t understand satire, 2) want attention, or 3) are oversensitive. I understand that you can’t just make someone not be offended at something – I get offended at things that are considered by some to be inoffensive, but they still offend me; in this case, it is clear that the Heckler is not being racist, but satirical. I don’t understand how anyone who understands what satire is can be offended by the article or use of images.

  5. Ellie Gunderson needs to find a life and find herself some real issues to take up. This nonsense makes her, and everyone else who gets angry about these sorts of petty non-issues, look like real fools.

    Nothing enrages me more than this crap that comes up at least once a year. I’m a young alum. While at Georgetown, I had several leadership positions, and I was accused of racism several times because my groups’/organizations’ memberships did not include enough minorities. Meanwhile, we had completely open public application processes. But no, minorities didn’t apply. Those who did apply were 100% accepted and treated the same as every other member, like entirely equal and welcomed members of the Georgetown community. Still, large portions of the minority communities at Georgetown would rather sit in the Black House or in a Diversity Action Council meetings and nitpick bullshit, and accuse every white person at Georgetown of “racism,” rather than get involved and make Georgetown a better place by diversifying groups on campus (the Hoya, the Heckler, GAAP, NSO, GERMS, Corp, etc.). If you have time to write “press releases” (also, who the hell are you, Ms. Gunderson, to write a “press release,” but anyway), then how about you get involved outside your little race-obsessed bubble. Use your time to shape the way these student groups operate instead of just taking cheap shots and lobbing “racism” at the members who just don’t know how to make you race-crazed groups happy.

  6. A press release which libels the editor and writers of the Heckler as racists, homophobes and anti-Christians, without even first attempting to get an explanation from them. And now, when anyone googles Jack Stuef, his name appears in some 200+ news results that read like, “Georgetown Humor Magazine Accused of Racism”. And Ellie Gunderson moves on in the wake of her destruction, without a care or apology for the lives she’s ruined.

  7. Who cares about those racists! My feelings were hurt! That is what matters most!

  8. It’s the administrators and faculty members who lobbed obviously ill-informed and incendiary attacks who should really be ashamed of themselves. What kind of university vice president gives a quote to a national press release calling his own students racists? Todd Olson doesn’t belong at this college, or any other.

  9. When will Todd Olson apologize to the students he called racist?

  10. Pingback: Vox Populi » DeGioia responds to Heckler incident, approves some diversity working group suggestions

  11. Pingback: Vox Populi » Faculty Senate passes a revolution condemning The Heckler

  12. Pingback: Vox Populi » Here’s looking at you, Vox Populi readers

  13. Pingback: Vox Populi » You’ve been a bad, bad Hoya: picking on kids edition

  14. Pingback: Vox Populi » Twuesday Tweetacular: Semester’s over, but Twitter never stops

  15. Pingback: Fish Food - FishbowlDC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>