BLACK VOICES

SUNY Plattsburgh Plans Diversity Initiatives In Response To Racist Cartoon

The cartoon appeared on the cover of a student-run newspaper.

The president of SUNY Plattsburgh said Thursday that the university would introduce a number of diversity initiatives after a racially offensive cartoon ran on the cover of the college newspaper last week.

The illustration depicted a cartoonish character of a black person with bulging eyes and an overemphasized white mouth, in a graduation gown, standing against a background of dilapidated buildings and graffiti. The cartoon accompanied an article that, ironically, addressed campus diversity, titled "Minority admission rates examined."

Plattsburgh president John Ettling issued a statement Thursday detailing the university's plans to remedy the issue.

"Deep hurt has prompted heartfelt conversations that have taken place all week. These are necessary and will continue to take place. Personally, I will be engaging in more conversations with campus organizations, student leaders, and more," the statement read.

Ettling introduced several new initiatives, including naming a chief diversity officer, hosting a Diversity Week and resurrecting the school's Multicultural Alliance. 

The president had previously addressed the controversial cover in a statement on Monday, calling the cartoon "personally offensive."

The editors of the paper, Cardinal Points, released a statement Sunday, two days after the cartoon ran, expressing "regret" for the use of the cartoon.

"Many of you may have seen the illustration on top of the front page of this week’s Cardinal Points, accompanying the article 'Minority admission rates examined," the statement said. "It has come to our attention that the graphic in question not only has a disconnect to the article it was created to work with, but it also unintentionally features offensive and stereotypical elements that misrepresent African ­American students."

"To be frank, we deeply regret the use of this graphic and any offense or harm it may have caused our friends and peers," the editors continued. "As SUNY Plattsburgh students and editors of the newspaper, we are constantly trying to represent the campus community in the best possible way, and in this case, we did not do so."

Cardinal Points is independently owned, and is operated by SUNY Plattsburgh students. It's funded through advertising and a yearly block subscription. While the university doesn't impose editorial direction on the paper, most of the students who participate are enrolled in a practicum that's associated with the paper and receive two credits toward graduation.  

Jonathan Slater, chair of the Journalism & Public Relations Program at SUNY Plattsburgh, told The Huffington Post that an adviser from the department of journalism is assigned to mentor students as part of the practicum. Once the students send the paper for print, an editorial review process takes place. 

"The faculty adviser goes through the paper after it's published," Slater said.

Shawn Murphy, the current adviser assigned to this practicum, was not available for comment. But Slater added that since the controversial cover was sent to print, school administrators have had meetings to address it. 

Some students, however, said there had been issues with insensitivity on campus before this cover was published. 

"This has been an ongoing issue," said Lateef Wearrien, president of AKEBA, Plattsburgh's Black Student Union. "This was somewhat of the last straw for people."

AKEBA hosted a meeting Monday for students to "vent" about the cover, Wearrien said. He added that members of BSU and a large number of other Plattsburgh students from diverse backgrounds were disappointed with the cover. 

"We were shocked, basically how anyone can depict someone like that," he told The Huffington Post. "This is bigger than the picture."