Jewish World Review March 6, 2003 / 2 Adar II, 5763

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Challenging views: Offense as defense | Yes, it was stupid. All appearances to the contrary, I tend toward the hopeful.

But now I know. To hope my alma mater would escape the sensitivity spasms that convulse daily across America's campuses was just plain folly. I dream!

Like so many other higher education institutions, Indiana University could write a handbook on hosting the Perpetually Offended.

The article caught my attention not only because it mentioned IU, but because it's another case of people being offended by an opinion of a newspaper person whose job it is to form opinion. Go figure.

The ruckus occurred over an editorial cartoon that appeared on the editorial page of IU's student newspaper, Indiana Daily Student.

The cartoon was by Dan Carino of The Daily Aztec, the student newspaper at San Diego State University, that ran in IDS on Feb. 5. I couldn't find the cartoon on the Aztec's archives -- hmmm -- but The Herald-Times of Bloomington, Ind., describes the opinion cartoon as suggesting a black student would get more points for college admission than a white student who'd scored perfectly on the SAT. Included was the text, "Feeling entitled to special benefits: pointless," -- an obvious play on those annoying Visa commercials.

For those who pay attention, Carino was commenting on current events, which is part of his job. For those who don't pay attention, he's undoubtedly alluding to the two cases concerning University of Michigan's undergraduate and law school admissions policies that are before the U.S. Supreme Court. These cases involve point systems, affirmative action, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

So, basically, big-time law stuff with far-reaching consequence potential. But members of the IU Black Student Union saw only offense in Carino's cartoon, which they viewed as a caricature of a black student -- a large man, looking up and whistling. The union's political action chairwoman saw it as playing on stereotypes of the huge black male with little intelligence.

Granted, it's hard to judge without being able to view the cartoon, but it's safe to say that one way to convey a carefree attitude is someone walking along without paying attention to surroundings.

There's more, of course. The BSU sees a pattern of racial controversies on campus. There was that ad that IDS accepted two years ago arguing that slavery reparations are themselves racist. Imagine being confronted with something in a newspaper that you don't have to read. The horror.

Then there was that debate last year of the Thomas Hart Benton mural in Woodburn Hall that shows a Ku Klux Klan rally. Painted for the 1933 Chicago's World Fair, the parts of the mural at IU also show a white nurse tending to two children, one white, one black. Some students find the mural from a completely different era hostile to learning. They wanted it removed. Historical, societal and cultural discussion is a terrible thing to risk.

At a meeting -- following the inevitable diversity workshops -- to discuss the cartoon offense, the IDS editor in chief said her staff is sometimes insulated from minority readers' concerns and may have made a mistake from lack of awareness. In the same article, a black campus leader said students shouldn't have to be offended year after year.

If minority students truly are suffering from adverse policies, that's a valid issue. But being offended isn't. Where is it written that anyone is guaranteed an offense-free existence? And IDS staffers might be insulated, but that has nothing to do with publishing an editorial cartoon some people don't like.

Aside from reflecting a paper's stance on an issue, an editorial page is supposed to reflect viewpoints along a spectrum. Which means someone won't like something. Ideally, that means nothing, because if you don't like it, don't read it. Write a letter. Submit an op-ed. Start another newspaper.

Just do something other than whimper your claim to offense-free territory. To shatter so easily must surely exhaust the delicate. Expending all that energy attempting to suppress and hush what you aren't required to read or listen to must tucker.

Wait a sec. I'm probably being insensitive.

Challenging a viewpoint is way harder than making it go away.

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

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