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SUNY’s most offensive front page?

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Meghan Mahar: November 17, 2015


Last week, controversy surrounded SUNY Plattsburgh concerning the image on the front page of its school’s paper, Cardinal Points. The story, with the headline “Minority Admission Rates Examined,” was about the rise of admissions amongst African-American students. I thought it sounded harmless at first, until I saw the picture myself.

The cartoon picture is of an African-American boy dressed in a red cap and gown holding a diploma in his hand. Just looking at that part of the picture, it still seemed harmless. It is when I noticed the environment the cartoon boy is in that I realized its actual significance.

In the cartoon, the boy is walking through a run-down neighborhood with graffiti on the buildings, windows boarded up, and a broken-down car. I understand why so many students were offended.

The story is not about where students may or may not come from – it’s about how the admission numbers for African-American students have increased. Assuming that because a person is African-American they must come from the “ghetto” is stereotypical and racist.

A cartoon drawing of an African-American student at graduation or a photograph of African-American students on campus would have been much more appropriate.

The Daily Beast calls it the most racist front page in the United States. In the same article, they said, “…there is a problem with racism at SUNY Plattsburgh.”

Marvin Francios, a junior biology major at Plattsburgh, told North Country Public Radio that his neighborhood in Brooklyn is nothing similar to what is in the picture.

“I don’t know why someone would think of this… It showed me how uneducated they are… to still think of black people that way,” Francios said. “We fought so hard for people to see a different perception… but it’s not changing at all.”

To make matters worse, the illustrator of the picture, Jonny Zajac, took to Instagram after and posted racial comments. He did not show guilt or remorse for the people he hurt. This makes me think it was intentional.

The school should investigate further into its paper and see if any of the members have been involved in other racial incidents. I do not know how the picture made it through the whole editorial process without someone deciding that it wasn’t a good idea.

It is the responsibility of the student-based staff that is operating the paper to check over every aspect carefully before sending it out to be printed. The head of the journalism department at SUNY Plattsburgh told the Huffington Post that a faculty adviser does not check over the paper until after it is published. Maybe it is time they change that.

Writing for the school paper is a privilege and anyone who abuses that should lose this privilege. Students of all backgrounds are entitled to a higher education and should not feel like they are under attack or being victimized by racism.

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