THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON ALUMNI MAGAZINE
Parody Distributed in the Daily Draws Fire
It was supposed to be a satirical piece intended to mock racist and homophobic attitudes. But an article published in a May 19 supplement to the Daily offended students, faculty, regents, alumni and the public, causing the supplement editor to resign and the Board of Student Publications to withdraw financial support for the humor publication.
A satirical supplement to the Daily called "The Mutt" carried an article titled, "Prison inmates to attend UW." It described a "diversity program" that enrolls "undereducated, middle-aged minorities" recently released from prison. The article included fake quotes from President Richard L. McCormick and hinted that the inmates intended to assault male students in the IMA shower room.
The tone and timing of the piece angered UW officials, who have been trying to attract more students of color to the UW following the passage of Initiative 200, which dismantled affirmative action programs in state agencies.
"The article, though apparently intended to be satirical, relies on offensive and stereotypical notions that are antithetical to the purposes for which the University exists," wrote McCormick in a letter to the newspaper. "I cannot think of anything that could be more damaging to our efforts to foster a positive and supportive environment for all members of the University community. Part of the learning that should occur here during the educational experience is a deep understanding of and appreciation for diversity. This racist and offensive article is completely inimical to what the University of Washington is trying to achieve."
William H. Gates, '49, '50, president of the Board of Regents, wrote in his letter, "The racial diversity effort of the administration, enthusiastically supported by every element of the University community, is way too important and sensitive a matter to be made the subject of thoughtless parody. What this article implies all too clearly is that the work that is being done to increase minority enrollment is a joke. The stereotyping is appalling and vividly supports the suspicion that this is the state of mind of the majority. As if its patently racist theme were not enough, the article goes on to add a distinctly homophobic note."
Student reaction to the article included a rally where protesters burned copies of the newspaper. The UW Alumni Association's Executive Committee also strongly condemned the article. In June, the UW Board of Student Publications effectively killed the supplement when it tabled a proposal to fund it for the 2000-01 academic year.
Following the uproar, the editor of "The Mutt," Jason Sykes, resigned and wrote an apology. "I'm deeply ashamed and sorry," he wrote. "I've offended many people and hampered already difficult efforts to make the UW an attractive community to all." Daily Editor-in-Chief Nathan Issacs said the student newspaper had no role in producing the supplement and that he never saw the piece prior to publication.
The incident came at a sensitive time in the UW's efforts to increase the diversity of its student population (see "The Road Ahead," March 1999). The UW has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to recruit underrepresented minorities for the fall 2000 freshman class and future classes.
Its efforts have included sending more than 13,000 letters to qualified minority students in 12 Western states; making personal calls to admitted students from deans, students and staff; placing UW counselors in some Seattle and Tacoma high schools; increasing school visits by UW students to ethnically diverse high schools; launching a diversity Web site that has had more than 60,000 "hits" since November; and creating a special video and CD-ROM that highlight programs for minority students.
The UW also asked the Legislature to fund an $888,000 request for long-term diversity efforts. Though Olympia turned down the proposal in its 2000 session, the UW will be back in 2001 with a similar request.
Some recruitment efforts have shown modest success already, such as a 33 percent increase in African American students in the fall 2000 freshman class (see "Nearly 5,000 New Freshmen Expected This Fall"). But more work needs to be done, say UW officials, and the article will only make that task more difficult.