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Campus newspaper apologizes for running illustration of black student from rundown neighborhood

An illustration of a black student in a cap and gown standing in a rundown neighborhood that ran in SUNY Plattsburgh’s campus newspaper to accompany an article headlined “Minority admission rates examined” sparked anger and prompted editors to apologize. The president of the university also denounced the image, and a meeting was held Monday night on campus about racism.

“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,” reads the apology by Cardinal Points editors. “To be frank, we deeply regret the use of this graphic and any offense or harm it may have caused our friends and peers. 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.”

“Please know that we do not take this lightly and are using this as a constructive learning experience because we wish, more than anything, to remain an outlet of positivity and inclusion, where all members of our community feel safe and respected,” the apology added.

The front page article took on minority admission rates from a national perspective, and quoted campus officials as saying diversity is important to a university’s culture, but some students questioned the appropriateness of the image, which “depicts an African-American student wearing a cap and gown walking down what appears to be a run-down street with a broken stop sign, a broken down car and buildings vandalized with graffiti and broken windows,” WPTZ.com reports.

Students told the news outlet the image plays into stereotypes. One student said, “I’m from New York City. There’s no community that looks like that [with a] broken stop sign, burnt down buildings or cars that look that way,” and other suggested “they could have taken a picture of a black student reading a book or at the computer.”

In a statement posted on the school’s website, SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling denounced the image, saying in part that “the front-page illustration in Friday’s edition of the Cardinal Points student newspaper does not reflect a range of values SUNY Plattsburgh holds dear. Rather, as the editors of Cardinal Points indicated in their own written apology, the cartoon features ‘offensive and stereotypical elements that misrepresent African-American students.’ It is also personally offensive to me.”

“While the student newspaper is produced independent of any editorial control by the college, it still purports to represent us as it is distributed in the community and around campus,” he added. “As such, we are all included in the eyes of some who will look upon us collectively in what we think and say about this.”

A meeting scheduled for Monday night on campus was deigned to allow students to digest their emotions and voice their concerns about broader issues of “race, community and inclusion,” Ettling stated.

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.