Is the April Fool’s day issue of a college newspaper just some edgy silly stuff? Is it a chance to take advantage of the latitude we give to humor, and grievously insult people racially and ethnically? Both?
Let’s start with the newspaper itself. Here are excerpts from Lisa Kaczke’s article in the Duluth (Minnesota) News Tribune. Please read it – and then, please use the link to read the entire story. The bold print is mine:
The publication of a profanity-laced April Fools’ Day edition of the University of Wisconsin-Superior student newspaper, filled with fabricated stories, has drawn fire from some on campus who say it was a guise for publishing offensive jokes about minorities.
The university administration has “condemned” the issue of the Promethean — renamed the Pessimist for that edition — and a grievance filed with the UWS Dean of Students Office has prompted the office to begin an investigation into the student-run newspaper.
Meanwhile, the editor and faculty adviser of the Promethean say the April 1 issue was satire intended to start a campus discussion on social and political issues.
Interspersed with joke stories about one-time UWS student Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to teach a course, and the school restarting a football program, the issue contains a story headlined “Area Jewish man doesn’t know how the f— he got here,” in which a Jewish man is laughed at for his accent and name. The story contains a derogatory term for a person of Jewish descent.
The issue also includes fake stories referring to the school’s large number of international students and UWS “outsourcing” its entire student body; pick-up lines involving a woman’s breasts; an initiative called #SelfieswithChristians; and a “Dear Abby” column in which a writer’s ex-girlfriend is called a derogatory term for women.
Debbie Cheslock, a UWS graduate student and student program manager at the UWS Gender Equity Resource Center, states in her grievance that the April 1 edition didn’t have a disclaimer that it was satire, included demeaning language and statements, and that the paper’s editorial board — in a subsequent email refusing to meet with her to discuss concerns — intimidated her in an attempt to take away her freedom of speech.
“The point is that even though there are freedoms for expression, there are also consequences for inappropriate expressions. There are real consequences for everything that we do, and it is unfortunate that the Promethean’s staff and faculty adviser chose a path of sexism, racism, anti-Semitism and other demeaning actions … ,” Cheslock wrote in her grievance. “Offending people in protected classes in the name of satire is not free from consequences, nor should it ever be.”
UWS student Ilana Yokel, who is Jewish, said she believes the April 1 edition was the result of the Promethean staff not understanding the everyday experiences of minority students.
“I think that privilege is playing a huge role here. People from a mostly privileged standpoint decided to take on issues of people who are not necessarily in a place of privilege — without asking the people they were supposedly defending if it was OK that they defended them in this manner. That’s not being a good ally,” Yokel said.
“The First Amendment is a right, yes, but you not only have a right to say what you want, you have a responsibility to the people you’re representing,” Yokel said. “This paper is a student paper and I’m a student and this paper does not represent me.”
Is this a tough one for you?
Let me make it a bit tougher, by posting the key paragraph of a statement subsequently put out by the school paper’s staff. As with the article, I urge you to go beyond what I’ve posted to use the link and read it all. The bold print is mine:
The issue remains, though, that this campus administration and certain people on it feel that it is necessary to threaten punishment to a student newspaper for exercising its rights not only to the right of freedom of the press, but to academic freedom. Statements that the University of Wisconsin – Superior believes in and promotes inclusivity are untrue if the university believes it necessary to investigate a student newspaper. To be inclusive means to respect the opinion and speech of others, regardless of its nature or source. This is a liberal arts university, not a safe zone for people to have their ideas censored because others disagree with them. Some opinions offend us, others make us cringe, but in an inclusive environment these opinions are still respected.
The question to be addressed is where – if anywhere – freedom of speech ends. Did the UW-Superior Prometheus, in effect, yell “fire” in a crowded theater? Or do we have another example of Academic Brownshirts trying to shut up people for daring to say things they don’t like?