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Forum Discusses Racist Cartoon Published In Student Newspaper

The SUNY Plattsburgh Student Association held an open campus meeting last night to discuss the issues and emotions swirling in the wake of the publication of a racist cartoon on the front page of the student newspaper.  As WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, an all-faculty meeting is also scheduled for this afternoon.
The cartoon published two weeks ago by Cardinal Points appeared above an article headlined “Diversity admission rates examined.”  The cartoon depicts a black-face, red-gowned graduate with bulging eyes and exaggerated smile clutching a diploma while strolling down a ghetto street with boarded and broken windows, cracked foundations, graffiti, broken street signs and an old car on cement blocks.

The depiction angered and insulted many on campus — not to mention alumni of the school and its newspaper —  leading to calls for the editors of the quasi-independent paper to resign and the Student Association to withhold funds.

Student Association President Kevin Clayton said the evening’s “Conversation on Moving Forward” was intended to get input on how student and academic leaders should proceed.    “I picked up the paper and I was completely shocked and I stared at it completely dumbfounded. It’s brought up a lot of questions.  We don’t have answers and the forum tonight isn’t going to give us answers.  There’s two issues at play here. Firstly is that this got printed. The other issue is that the graphic was created to begin with. That is disturbing in and of itself and we’re looking to take steps to address the factors that led to that so something like this not only is not published in future, but isn’t created in the first place.”

The student-run newspaper is funded by the Student Association through a contract that lasts until the end of next semester.  Faculty advisors review the paper after it has gone to print.

The panel included the faculty advisor to the Student Association, the president of AKEBA, the black student union, the Editor-in-Chief of Cardinal Points, and the faculty advisor to the student newspaper. It was moderated by college’s chief diversity officer Dr. J.W. Wylie.  He posed questions to the crowd to guide the conversation including how the campus should address the immediate issues surrounding the cartoon and larger challenges raised by its publication. Many had questions about oversight of the students who publish Cardinal Points.  Others passionately spoke of the hurt the cartoon has caused. Some called for punitive actions against the newspaper’s staff.

Editor-in-chief Maggie McVey spoke little during the 90-minute meeting, explaining her position at the beginning and again at the end.  She is adamant that the editors will not resign, even as several former editors called for them to step down.  “We really feel it would be taking the easy way out if we were to just step down. We want to help our staff move forward and figure out the best way of operating the newspaper before we decide anything moving forward.” (How did this cartoon make it so far without somebody raising a red flag before it got published?)  “The problem is that we really do have a smaller staff and unfortunately there was just a procedural error.  It wasn’t intentional but it happened. We recognize that and we’re owning up to it and we’re just trying to have a closer working relationship with our faculty advisor and the rest of the journalism professors so that things like this don’t happen in the future.”

A trio of students approached to say they are circulating a petition asking for the immediate resignation of Cardinal Points’ editor-in-chief and managing editor:
“My name is Vinda.  I am a second year, sophomore first semester. This is nothing personal.  It’s just that people who have created a problem need to step down and take accountability.  I don’t understand how so many people could let go of the front page article without realizing that there is something wrong with it.”
“My name is Kalewold and I’m a senior. It’s an independent autonomous organization but we’re trying to show them this is a grave error and a simple apology isn’t going to suffice.”

“My name is Katia.  This is like maybe the fifth large scale conversation I’ve had about this. All we want is for Cardinal Points to take accountability and for the two editors to step down. And that’s it. I’m tired of having the same conversation over and over again.”

A diversity march across campus is scheduled for Monday at 12:30.

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