In retrospect, some editors at The Imperialist, a conservative magazine at Vassar College, wish they could have stopped the presses.
Time was running out before a deadline. An edited version of an article was missing. In editing, Vassar students had removed some phrases that were sure to offend many students. Rather than re-edit the piece, the editors went with the original version. Graydon Gordian, editor in chief, has acknowledged that the terms that were published were offensive to many on the campus -- and The Imperialist has been under attack ever since over those terms.
"How is diversity achieved,” reads the article “Race and Freedom,” written under the nom de plume “Constantine,” in the most recent Imperialist, when minority and gay and lesbian students "are voluntarily confining themselves to ghettoes" of cultural centers created for them. "I find the objective of diversity to be utterly meritless, suggesting that our colleges should become some zoological preserve in some paternalistic attempt [to] benefit our ‘non diverse’ students."
Minority students were outraged at the use of “ghetto” and “zoological,” as well as by a cartoon that was printed (and that Imperialist editors say that they never intended to edit out). The cartoon depicts an “almost hyper sexualized, or tribal,” Gordian said, black woman, with bangle bracelets and a ghoulish face, pointing a finger at a young, dollish looking white girl. The caption reads: “Black student confronting a white supremacist on campus.” The point, Gordian said, was “that when black students accuse a white student of being racist, that student is as helpless as a little girl.” When he first saw the cartoon, he said he thought it was “stupid, but innocuous,” and let it into the publication that has the motto: “provocative not inflammatory."
According to a group minority students who complained to the Vassar Students Association, the cartoon and article were definitely on the inflammatory end of that spectrum. “Graydon said he had no idea that this could be construed as racist,” said Tiera Rainey. "The cartoon had a big ass, some stereotypical attitude, some big frizzy hair, a popped out hip. It reminded me of a minstrel character. As a black woman, that’s so demeaning."
Rainey was one of the students who asked the Vassar Students Association to take away student-activity funding from The Imperialist, which is run by the Moderate, Independent and Conservative Alliance. “I think they should lose their privilege to publish with student money,” Rainey said. “They like to rabble rouse. It’s not about public dialogue.” Rainey also pointed out that Constantine, while beneath the cloak of a penname, had no qualms about referring by name to the anonymous author of an article in The Miscellany News, the student newspaper. The article, written by a black woman, was critical of what the author called an “inherent hostility toward diversity at Vassar College.”
The student association decided to let The Imperialist off with the order that the Moderate, Independent and Conservative Alliance hold an open forum for students on campus later this month, which it has agreed to do. "They apologized," said Rachel Zoghlin, a member of the student association. "In the future, they’re going to be a lot more careful. I [didn’t want to] freeze their budget for the year…. They are a minority voice on campus. They’re trying to get the campus more aware of conservative ideas.”
Offended students were hardly soothed by the apology from Gordian, who described himself as part Puerto Rican, that was printed in The Miscellany News. The apology uses the first couple of paragraphs to express compunction for insensitivity. “Although I have a different interpretation of the term’s [ghetto’s] use,” Gordian wrote, it is an “offensive term to use in the way it was, and for its usage I sincerely apologize.”
It is the later paragraphs, where Gordian “would now like to address the accusation that in the most recent issue of The Imperialist there can be found ‘hate speech,’” that convinced some students that the apology was half-hearted. “To be frank, I think that this charge is ridiculous,” the letter continues.
Said Rainey: “Obviously it’s not an apology.”
Angelic Sosa, a black and Hispanic student who wrote a letter to The Miscellany News, is still seething about the use of “ghetto” to describe buildings designated for particular communities. “These are places where students of color and homosexual students can feel comfortable,” Sosa said. “Now they’re uncomfortable.” She found no solace in the fact that the article was previously edited, but that the edited version was lost -- “Well edit it again” – nor in the definition of a ghetto, presented by the conservative group as a place where people of the same culture congregate.
Matt Ambrose, president of the Moderate, Independent and Conservative Alliance, noted that this was only the third issue of The Imperialist, and that the incident was part of the publication’s “growing pains.” He hopes the forthcoming forum will be a positive step, and added “we’re rethinking the submission of anonymous articles. Originally, it was just a way to come up with cutesy pennames. It hasn’t worked out that way.” In an apparent editorial difference, however, Gordian said his policy on anonymous authors “stands as is.”