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College students’ satire attempts often offend

Last Monday, posters reading “Hate Muslims? So do we!!!” were plastered all over George Washington University’s (GWU) campus in Washington, D.C. The anonymously distributed posters advertised an Islamo-Facism Awareness Week on campus, and featured a drawing of a “Muslim” man that labeled several features of “your typical Muslim,” including “lasers in eyes,” “hatred for women,” and a “hidden AK-47.”

The signage elicited an immdiate outrage from the campus community. As soon as Monday evening, a forum was held to discuss the posters. Muslim students spoke about feeling attacked by the poster’s message, and the university president issued a statement condemning the document. The Young America’s Foundation (YAF), a conservative student group that is the body that will actually be hosting Islamo-Facism Awareness Week later this month, vehemently denied any involvement with the posters.

As has so frequently been the case on college campuses recently, it turns out that what most everyone perceived to be a blatantly offensive display was in fact intended to be “satirical.” The day after the posters first appeared, a group of seven GW students wrote a letter to The GW Hatchet, an independent student newspaper, taking responsibility for the posters. In the letter, the students called their posters “creative political action” intended to expose the racism of the YAF’s Islamo-Facism Awareness Week, which the students say equates Islam with terrorism.

Last year, Princeton University’s student newspaper printed an article making fun of Asian people in their joke issue that the staff claimed was intended to “lampoon racism.” Our own campus’s readme also came under fire last year for writing a piece that implied that a Carnegie Mellon dorm was akin to a Nazi concentration camp. The list of offensive material intended to be “funny” at college campuses goes on.

Popular as programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are, college students should realize that they don’t yet have the ethos to execute satire with the intelligence and charm of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. The popular Comedy Central TV shows pair parody with context instead of anonymously spewing material that many could find offensive or hurtful. As powerful of a political tool as satire has been throughout the ages, if done improperly, it can cause more harm than good. For that reason, it’s a tool to be wielded only by the truly experienced.

The seven GW students’ intentions were noble, but there are certainly easier and less offensive ways to condemn what the students perceive to be an Islamophobic event. Rallies, protests, and well-argued editorials are all ways to start a real campus dialogue about racism. Students need to earn their stripes before attempting satire.