Daily apologizes for finals issue comic strip

Robyn Repya

Amid protests from students outraged by a cartoon in the spring humor issue, The Minnesota Daily issued a rare apology this month and is considering eliminating the semester-end lampoon issue altogether.

More than 30 students crowded the entryway to the Daily on May 17, voicing anger and disappointment over the cartoon, titled “Thuggish Ruggish,” which appeared on the last page of the sports section in the spring finals issue.

The cartoon showed a black man, Laron, talking to his friend in urban slang about having sex with a black woman named Trina. When Trina discovers she’s pregnant, she calls Laron, who accuses her of being promiscuous, calls her a bitch and slams down the phone.

Critics said the cartoon perpetuated stereotypes that blacks are ignorant, irresponsible and promiscuous.

“People at the Daily and the powers that be were so insensitive,” said Hollies J. Winston, a second-year law student.

The Daily’s then-editor in chief, Mike Wereschagin, who has since completed his one-year term, issued an apology on the Daily’s Web site. He said the cartoon was not meant to be malicious or racist.

“I didn’t think enough when I saw it,” he said. “Basically, I didn’t do my job.”

The group of students – which included members of the New Black Panther Party and Africana – requested the formal apology and asked that the Daily terminate the illustrator and implement procedures to make the Daily staff more culturally aware.

Winston said a larger multicultural presence in the Daily’s newsroom could help increase racial sensitivity.

“The paper should reflect the diversity at the University,” he said. “It certainly isn’t being reflected.”

Pre-medical junior Ezekiel Ashamu said he is frustrated with negative portrayals of blacks in the media.

Ashamu said the Daily has been racially insensitive in the past, citing a political cartoon by a different artist that appeared on the Daily’s editorial page in 2000.

The cartoon ran after the University of Wisconsin-Madison digitally added a black student to a promotional photo to make the school appear more diverse. The Daily editorial cartoon depicted University President Mark Yudof applying black face paint. Pete Wagner, the cartoonist, said at the time that the satire was aimed at critiquing the facade of diversity on college campuses.

George Barganier, a department of education graduate student, said the illustration reflects a deeper problem of racism on campus.

“That’s what they treat us like on campus, from professors to janitors,” said Barganier. “That’s why (the University) can’t attract any faculty of color.”

Mike DeArmond, the former art director who created the illustration under the name “butter D,” said he was only trying to be funny and said he thinks people are taking the cartoon too seriously.

“I was trying to poke fun at the ignorant stereotypes. People took it as the opposite,” he said. “It was obviously unintended Ö Some of the words are direct quotes from rap songs.”

“In retrospect, it was poor judgment,” he said. “If I thought anyone would have taken offense to it, I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing it.”

DeArmond left the Daily at the end of the semester.

The humor issue controversy isn’t the first at the Daily. In 1979, the Daily’s finals issue featured a mock interview with Jesus Christ.

The issue was meant to parody grocery store tabloids and was intended to be funny, editors said at the time. Outraged by the issue, then-University President Peter MacGrath pushed a policy allowing students to withhold Student Services Fees money from the Daily. The newspaper sued, and the 8th circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the action violated the paper’s First Amendment rights.

Reacting to this spring’s issue, some students and community leaders said they want to be reimbursed for their Student Services Fees that help underwrite the Daily.

“We should get that back and donate it to Africana,” Bargainer said.

Shanna Orr, the Daily’s new president, said that “cutting off their interaction and support for the Daily is harmful to both of our causes.”

Winston said the money could also be used to form a multicultural advisory committee for the staff.

Todd Milbourn, the Daily’s new editor in chief, who took over after the finals issue was published, said although the cartoon was insulting and irresponsible, it’s not representative of the Daily’s work as a whole.

“The Daily should be an open environment for anyone on this campus,” he said. “I would like to see the Daily be a forum.”

Milbourn said he was considering publishing a “semester in review” edition instead of a parody.

Tyler Richter, a member of last year’s fees committee, said the fees committee cannot allow students to pick and choose which groups they want to fund.

“For someone to take anything in that (finals) issue too seriously would be a remiss in judgment,” he said. “I don’t think the Daily should be subject to any consequences – given the context it was in,” he said.

If students were allowed to pick which groups they funded, Richter said, it would be impossible to fairly allocate funding.

But Barb Hartman, also a fees committee member, said this issue could haunt the Daily during next year’s fees process.

“I think it will definitely be brought up at the time of the fees committee next year,” she said.

Richter said if students are that angry about it they can always take their business elsewhere.

Winston said they would, if their demands aren’t met.

“We’ll hit them in the pocketbook,” he said. “Basically boycott the paper.”

Robyn Repya welcomes comments at [email protected]