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A Not So Merry Christmas

December 12, 2006

So much for the season of togetherness and good cheer.

A racially charged Christmas carol published by a conservative student publication at Tufts University has drawn the ire of activists and student government officials there. The carol, titled “O Come all Ye Black Folk,” a play on “O Come all Ye Faithful,” ran in The Primary Source, a journal of conservative thought.

During the regularly scheduled student government meeting on Sunday, the Source’s editor, Alison Hoover, apologized for the song, which has been removed from the publication’s Web site. In its place, Hoover published an apology, which said, “[I]t is not the opinion of The Primary Source that there are no qualified black students at Tufts University or that any of the other generalizations in the song are true.”

In a copy obtained by Inside Higher Ed, passages of the song read, “O Jesus! We need you to fill our racial quotas. Descendants of Africa, with brown skin arriving.” A line from the chorus consistently references “52 black freshmen,” which is the number of black students who matriculated this year to Tufts.

“It was derogatory and ill-willed,” said Mitch Robinson, president of the student government. “Our student government is not going to support anything of that nature. Freedom of speech should be used with respect.” Robinson said that if the satire was meant to focus on affirmative action, “It did a poor job.”

An editorial in Monday’s Tufts Daily, the student newspaper, condemned the carol but cautioned students against overreacting. “The carol's publication is counterproductive for the exercise of free speech, and it treads dangerously close to the line separating free speech from hate speech,” concluded the editorial. “Yet attempts to censor, silence or defund the Source go too far.”

Bruce Reitman, dean of student affairs at Tufts, could not be reached for comment Monday. But in a news story also published Monday in the student newspaper, he said, "[T]his is not the first time we have dealt with issues like this, but they persist. I don't think that the way to respond is to talk about cutting off funding or other forms of censorship."

Jordan Greene, an editor at the Source and president of the campus college Republicans, said that the publication has apologized and acknowledged that the jokes had crossed a line. He said that he does not expect students to pull funding for the publication, which has been in existence for 25 years. He added that conservatives will continue to object to affirmative action. “There are a lot of people who feel that we can’t critique university policy. That’s incorrect and too bad for them.”

He said that the editors had not expected such outrage and that some students have been conflating the difference between racially insensitive comments and relevant criticism of affirmative action.

“We don’t try to intentionally offend people,” said Douglas Kingman, a senior who will edit the Source next semester. “We try to get our views across through satire.”

The song in dispute was part of a series of  Christmas carols that appeared in The Primary Source. In another, titled “O Feminists” and sung to “O Christmas Tree,” passages read: "O feminists! O feminists! Wearing bras isn’t practical. No consequences of sex for me, Abortion, Plan B: all for free.”

“We have articles and we have satire,” Kingman said. “And sometimes students have a problem discerning the difference.”

However, in a statement released Monday evening and signed by President Lawrence S. Bacow, university officials said the song was antithetical to Tufts's community of learning. "We fully recognize freedom of speech on campus, and as administrators feel compelled to exercise our own freedom to speak out against this offensive act," officials wrote. "[W]e will work with students, faculty and staff to continue to find ways to promote a climate in which ideas can be exchanged freely while respecting members of our community as individuals."

 

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