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Cartoon Stirs up Concerns Over Climate for Diversity

By Andy Fell on April 30, 1999 in University

A California Aggie cartoon, which depicted a missile striking ethnic studies programs in Hart Hall, prompted a campus advisory board this week to begin a review of the student newspaper's editorial policies.

The student-drawn "Another Dimentian" cartoon, published last Friday, enraged ethnic and gender studies faculty members, staff employees and students and others who called it a racist threat and a reflection of a growing intolerance for cultural diversity on campus.

They voiced their complaints Monday at forum sponsored by the Campus Council on Community and Diversity, created last year to recommend ways to increase diversity and strengthen community ties on campus.

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Robert Grey said late Tuesday that "people of color and women are not feeling welcome, comfortable and safe on the campus. That is of deep concern to me and to the chancellor, and I hope to every member of the campus community.

"We have begun engaging the full spectrum of academic leadership in addressing these issues, but we all have a role; ultimately the entire community has to take responsibility for its healthy functioning. All members need to understand how some are feeling, and the first step is to ensure we're communicating clearly."

Grey and Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef said in a letter published in The Aggie on Tuesday that the cartoon "stepped considerably over the line of sensitivity and respect for human rights" and violated the campus's "Principles of Community."

They urged The Aggie to review its policies and to issue a retraction and an apology.

"We fully understand First Amendment rights, and we respect the financial independence of our student-run newspaper," they wrote.

"However, on this campus we aim for and expect a higher order of behavior as expressed in our 'Principles of Community.' To quote, we are committed 'to the highest standards of civility and decency towards all,' and 'we confront and reject all manifestations of discrimination'"

On Tuesday, The Aggie ran a front-page apology from editor-in-chief Sara Raley. "The cartoon was inappropriate, offensive and not humorous," Raley wrote.

"The cartoon never received the clearance of any of the appropriate managers or editors that routinely review the cartoon strip before it goes to print."

Raley said the paper would take "appropriate personnel action" with the cartoonist and conduct a review with the campus media board of editorial policies and quality-control checks and balances.

The Aggie also removed the cartoon from its Web archives.

Raley said Aggie staff members would receive diversity-education training before the end of the academic year.

"We ask that the campus community remember that The Aggie is staffed entirely by students who, in the educational process of producing a daily paper, may occasionally make mistakes. Nonetheless, a mistake as egregious as Friday's cartoon highlights the fact that Aggie staff members are not as culturally sensitive to the needs of the campus as we need to be."

The apology and promise of changes didn't go far enough for about 200 protesters who held a demonstration on the Quad at noon Tuesday.

A banner read, "We have no voice." Some demonstrators wore masking tape across their mouths to protest that The Aggie doesn't represent their viewpoints.

Protesters called for resignation of the cartoonist and the paper's editors and urged a boycott of businesses that advertise in the paper.

Other demands included increased funding for alternative-student newspapers, expansion of ethnic and women's studies programs and promotions for professors in those programs, and a campuswide forum with the chancellor.

Earlier on Tuesday, ketchup was poured on Aggie display racks in at least nine campus buildings. A flier left at some of the racks read, in part, "There is blood on these Aggies. This is an act of self-defense."

A day earlier, about 150 people filled MU II in the Memorial Union for a meeting of the Provost's Campus Council on Community and Diversity. Several speakers during the emotional 1 1/2-hour discussion called for strong action against The Aggie, including shutting it down.

The daily newspaper is student run and financially self-supporting--advertising revenues cover its operating expenses. However, the daily newspaper is advised by the campus media board, whose members include students, staff and faculty members, as well as a professional journalist.

Gong, who serves as a non-voting member of the media board, said the board would work with The Aggie to review its editorial policies and procedures. Grey asked her to report back to the diversity council at its next monthly meeting.

In the cartoon, a laser-guided missile from Kosovo hits Hart Hall after one student uses his laser pen to point the building out to a friend. The final panel reads, "Chancellor Vanderhoef described the accident as a 'close call.'"

Numerous speakers Monday complained that the cartoon was only the latest in a series of Aggie cartoons, columns and articles that they perceived as insensitive to minorities, women, lesbians and gays.

Aggie editor Raley apologized to the group and said the paper was trying to include a wider range of viewpoints.

However, several speakers said the cartoon was only a symptom of a larger problem.

Inés Hernández-Avila, associate professor of Native American studies, said the cartoon reflected an increasingly hostile attitude on campus toward ethnic studies programs.

"This is not an isolated incident," Hernandez-Ávila said. "It is so much larger than that."

She was among several speakers who said the cartoon frightened them.

"The cartoon was a threat against the ethnic studies programs," Hernandez-Ávila said. "I do not think we can take this lightly. Our lives were threatened."

Adrian Nuñez, a third-year transfer student in biochemistry, said he was considering leaving UC Davis. "I'm scared to be in this institution," he said.

Martha Macri, chair of the Native American studies department, protested another cartoon by Ptak that showed a student pointing a laser pen in a professor's eyes.

Macri suggested The Aggie get a new cartoonist. "This cartoonist takes pride in being kind of a nasty bad boy," she said.

Beatriz Pesquera, associate professor of Chicana/o studies, said the cartoon contributes to a feeling among many women and minority faculty members in her department that they are unwanted here.

She said many of them are looking for other jobs, in part, because they do not feel standards for tenure and promotion are fair.

Media contact(s)

Andy Fell, Research news (emphasis: biological and physical sciences, and engineering), 530-752-4533,