Saturday, February 23, 2008

Controversial column sparks outcry, call for training

The staff of The Campus Press, the student newspaper at the University of Colorado-Boulder, will undergo diversity training, improve coverage of diverse communities and meet other measures outlined Thursday by university officials in response to a column published Monday that satirically called for "war" on Asians and Asian-Americans.

In the column, entitled "If it's War Asians Want," writer Max Karson said Asians hate whites. "They hate us all. And I say it's time we started hating them back. That's right-no more 'tolerance.' No more 'cultural sensitivity.' No more 'Mr. Pretend-I'm-Not-Racist.' It's time for war."

Though presumably meant as satire, the column stirred a firestorm of controversy that prompted community meetings and a resolution by the student government.

On Thursday, the student Legislative Council at the university unanimously passed a resolution formally opposing the column and another controversial opinion piece, "No hablo ingles," that ran the day before. On Friday, community and campus members met to discuss the article and ways to fight racism.

The chancellor of the University of Colorado-Boulder, the dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the editors of the student newspaper all issued apologies for Karson's column.

"The column was a poor attempt at social satire laden with offensive references, stereotypes and hateful language," University of Colorado Chancellor G.P. "Bud" Peterson said in a statement. "It was not properly labeled as either satire or commentary, and readers were left with the impression that the author spoke for the collective staff and leadership of the Campus Press, and perhaps even the University of Colorado."

In their apology, the editors of The Campus Press noted that the column offended many people.

"Karson's opinion is satire and is a commentary on racism at CU published in our opinion section, not presented as fact or incitement, and not published to intentionally incite controversy. We apologize for any ambiguity of the satire that may have been misconstrued."

In a statement released Thursday, Paul S. Voakes, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado-Boulder, lays out an action plan agreed upon by campus administrators and student editors:

* Beginning immediately, The Campus Press will provide enhanced coverage on the campus controversy the paper has sparked, which will include an open forum for commentary on the issue, for as many days as are warranted by ongoing reader interest.

* The Campus Press will work with SJMC Diversity Coordinator Dave Martinez to establish a Student Diversity Advisory Board, composed of non-journalism-majors who represent a broad swath of interests on the campus. The board’s purpose will be to provide editors with regular feedback from students with a diversity of backgrounds.

* The Campus Press will invite a number of student organizations to meet face-to-face with the editors, to discuss any specific concerns.

* The Campus Press will adopt an Opinions Policy, with standards and procedures for determining the acceptability of opinion columns or other reader-generated content.

* The Campus Press will schedule a series of diversity awareness workshops for the entire staff, in concert with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, and with participation of professional journalists of color.

* The Campus Press will schedule a series of workshops for opinion writing and editing, to be presented by experienced professional opinion editors.

"I’d like to reiterate that The Campus Press is the School’s teaching publication, and I believe the events of this week have provided all of us ... with a wealth of “teachable moments,” Voakes said in the statement. "I’m confident that the current crop of editors has begun to develop a new, more nuanced understanding of the delicate balance between absolute free speech and journalistic social responsibility."

Karson, the student who wrote the column, is no stranger to controversy; in 2007 he was arrested and barred from classes after saying in class that he could understand why the gunman at Virginia Tech would shoot fellow students, according to news reports. He also wrote a controversial newsletter called The Yeti, according to a 2006 article in The Daily Camera.

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