Campus responds too inconsistently to offense
In the spring of 2004, The Tartan published its annual April Fools issue, which was then titled The Natrat. The issue contained material that was unacceptable on many levels, including content that was racist, sexist, and homophobic. April 5, the day after its publication, the campus community rallied together to protest the issue and called for the expulsion of The Tartan’s entire editorial staff (regardless of individual staff members’ participation in the issue), University Disciplinary Committee hearings for all those directly involved, and for The Tartan to be entirely dissolved as an organization.
The Tartan’s staff apologized profusely, held community forums, hired an ombudsman, asked for the resignation of its editor-in-chief and managing editor — then the two top officers in its organization — and spent months reorganizing and restructuring its organizational hierarchy.
The result? A paper that is much better, stronger, and harder-working than what existed before.
The point of this, though, is not to rehash the Natrat incident, but rather to question readme and then question the collective mind of this community.
Over the last few years, readme has gone from an amusing satire magazine with a large staff, to a chaotic pamphlet whose humor was hit-or-miss, to a weekly stack of papers containing at least one article that insults part of our campus.
Gays in Greek life, our university president, women, Latin Americans, Christians, the elderly, nerds, Jews — readme has poked fun at everyone I can possibly think of. What readme has long forgotten is that there is a fine line between poking fun and insulting.
Two weeks ago, readme jumped way over the line. It contained an article entitled “Carnegie Mellon Builds New Hauschwitz Dormitory,” a reference to the Holocaust prison camp, Auschwitz. The article’s final paragraph essentially acknowledged that it was a joke, but the acknowledgement does not make up for the insults that came before it.
If someone you barely knew walked up to you and started spewing racial epithets, then finished by saying “Nah, it’s cool man. I love you — sorry. Didn’t mean to offend,” and walked away, it wouldn’t make up for the harm that had been done.
If anything, tacking on “Just kidding. It never happened.” to the end of the article should offend more than the article itself. Does readme really think that will placate the campus and instantly make up for what it published? And, more importantly, that acknowledgement proves that the editors knew the article would offend.
The fraternity “Sigma Heil,” the world’s largest kitchens and showers on campus, scratches on the shower walls, and, above all else, the statement of “contributing to the betterment of humanity” are just some of the things that this article boasts.
What made this article so offensive is that it intentionally picked out some of the most offensive parts of the Holocaust — things that people still have nightmares about — and joked about it with an attitude that if we are offended it is no one’s fault but our own.
What’s more upsetting, though, is the lack of response from the campus community. The Natrat incident had the entirety of campus up in arms and, as stated above, calling for the expulsion of the paper’s entire editorial staff. readme’s publication has seen none of that. The issue was recalled and that was the end of it. Local media (the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the local NBC affiliate, WPXI) are the only ones who’ve grasped the magnitude and significance of readme’s actions.
Maybe the reason for the lack of response on campus is that the article was recalled before anyone had the chance to read it. Maybe we expect to see stupid things come from readme and expect to be insulted by it day in and day out. Maybe we’re just a little bit jaded to diversity issues on campus. “Diversity” did become the quintessential buzzword of the 2005 student government elections.
We need to remember that this isn’t going to go away. Just as the 2004 Natrat stepped far over the line of acceptibility, readme needs to realize that what it has done and what it currently does is not acceptable. Satire should not be cruel.
We need to remember that these issues will not go away until we make them go away. We need to deal with them instead of shrugging them off because they don’t directly offend us. This is our community, and this kind of reckless behavior goes against everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve.