A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Journalism Education In-Brief

By Quill


Syracuse University and Texas A&M student newspapers are being criticized for running what some have labeled racist cartoons.

The staff of Syracuse’s The Daily Orange apologized in February for the cartoon and suspended the cartoonists for one year, The Syracuse Post-Standard reported.

The cartoon showed a character with a round, black face and white lips crawling through a shattered living room window, armed with a crowbar. The freshmen who created the comic strip, Matthew Cohen of Andover, Mass., and Devin Tanchum of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., said the burglar is wearing a ski mask.

“There was never any thought in our minds that it could be anything other than a ski mask,” said Tanchum, who publicly apologized for unintentionally offending people. “If anything, it’s a stereotype of criminals.”

Syracuse University Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw has challenged the student newspaper “to devise a system of checks and balances that will bring it in line with sound journalistic practice.”

Problems with offensive cartoons, containing sexist and racist images, violence and foul language, are not new at The Daily Orange. A cartoon last fall, referring to a man wearing a turban as a clog in the world’s drain, drew fire for maligning Arab-Americans. The newspaper apologized, saying the man should have been clearly labeled Osama bin Laden. In 1999, about 200 students marched to the newspaper’s office to protest a cartoon depicting SU’s black student president with white lips, bugged eyes and a lolling tongue.

The Texas A&M University student newspaper also is being criticized for publishing an editorial cartoon that some students describe as “blatantly racist,” the Houston Chronicle reported.

The cartoon, drawn by an anonymous student who uses the pen name “The Uncartoonist,” ran in the Battalion newspaper Jan. 14 and depicts a black mother scolding her son for flunking a class. Both the mother and the son have big eyes and frowning, large lips, caricatures historically used to denigrate blacks.

The overweight mother, holding a spatula in her left hand and wearing an apron and curlers, points to her son with her right hand and says, “If you ain’t careful, you gonna end up doing airport security.”

Battalion editor Mariano Castillo said in a statement, “I stand behind my decision to run the cartoon.”

“The cartoon was not meant to be interpreted as racist,” the statement said. “The intent was simply to illustrate the concern that a high school diploma is not required to protect our nation’s airports.”

In a letter published in the Battalion, A&M President Ray Bowen wrote that he would not “challenge” the independence of the student-run newspaper, which gets $20,000 a year from the university and derives 98 percent of its $1 million annual budget from selling advertising. However, Bowen also wrote that the cartoon “clearly played on negative stereotypes of African-Americans.”


Three editors at the Iowa State Daily were fired in February after their photographs and spoof descriptions were included in an issue of a cartoon newspaper.

Sara Tennessen, Wendy Weiskircher and Valerie Dennis posed for a picture in the Feb. 6 issue of Toons under the title of “More Nice Girls at ISU,” the Iowa State Daily reported.

The advertisement included a section that said the editors worked at the Daily, and that Tennessen, university editor, was in charge of “obscenities and slander”; Weiskircher, news editor, of “libel and maliciousness”; and Dennis, a copy editor, of “tomfoolery and fiction.”

Andrea Hauser, editor in chief of the Daily, said their depiction in Toons could harm the integrity of the Daily. It also compromised their ability to work effectively as Daily staff members within the organization and with the public, Hauser said.

“I trust the Daily staff to be up front everyday with information they present and how they represent the paper, and that’s something I have to take seriously,” Hauser said.

Hauser said she consulted several journalism and mass communications faculty members before making a decision.

All three editors said they were shocked by Hauser’s decision.

“I hadn’t heard a word from anyone at the Daily about it being upsetting,” said Tennessen, a senior in journalism and mass communication. “I wish we could have been told there were concerns before this happened.”

Dennis said, “I was really surprised. I didn’t know anything was wrong or anything was coming.”