Anti-Chinese slur creates dissension at Hopkins Student newspaper cites free speech

October 01, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

A debate over free speech erupted this week on the Johns Hopkins University campus after a student newspaper published an editorial cartoon featuring an anti-Chinese slur and hundreds of copies of the paper were stolen, apparently by angry students.

A series of student groups and Hopkins administrators condemned both the cartoon, which appeared in last Friday's edition of the Johns Hopkins News-Letter, and the subsequent theft of the newspapers.

Newspaper editors, meanwhile, are defending the cartoon on free-speech grounds but are expected to

print several critical responses in today's edition of the weekly paper.

An unknown number of people removed some 1,400 of the News-Letter's 7,000 copies from Hopkins dormitories and other campus buildings late Friday night. The newspapers have not been recovered, and nobody has been charged in the thefts.

The News-Letter cartoon was commissioned to accompany an editorial column by an Asian-American freshman complaining about the tendency of Hopkins students to socialize only with others of the same ethnic background.

In the cartoon, which was created jointly by three undergraduates, a male Asian student sits at one end of a couch with a female white student at the other.

The man, who is wearing a Chinese Student Association T-shirt, tells the woman: "I only date chinks." In the corner of the cartoon, a mouse that is listening to the conversation tells another mouse, "He can say that. He's a brother!"

Publication of the slur shocked many on the Hopkins campus, particularly Asian students, who now account for some 21 percent of the undergraduate population.

"It's very painful to see that," said Johnny Wu, president of the Chinese Student Association and a Taiwanese immigrant, who said the word "chink" has been used in the past as an epithet against him. "I have felt prejudice all my life."

"I think it's just offensive to the entire campus," said Margaret M. Lee, president of the Student Council, which sent a letter of protest to the News-Letter yesterday. The group's letter says, in part, "The slur reinforces stereotypes, induces hateful feelings and divides the community."

Ms. Lee and others said they were not objecting to the subject of the cartoon -- the perceived self-segregation of minorities on campus -- which is an issue being debated at many colleges across the country. But, they say, the cartoonists could have made their point by substituting "Chinese women" for the offending slur.

Andrew Dunlap, co-editor of the weekly newspaper, was diplomatically defiant about the cartoon yesterday.

Mr. Dunlap said the editors of the paper edit submissions to the opinion page by regular contributors only for spelling, grammar and length. The lead cartoonist, Raul Jocson, has been a News-Letter contributor for about two years, he said.

"It has been suggested by other people on the campus that we could have changed the offensive word to something less controversial," said Mr. Dunlap, a 20-year-old senior from New York. "In our view, to do something like that would be to censor

TC the opinion of the cartoonist. We're not in the business of censoring anyone's opinions."

Mr. Dunlap also said he "vehemently" objected to the theft of the newspapers.

"I fail to see how censoring an opinion, especially in an academic environment, can ever further the discourse of ideas," he said.

None of the cartoonists could be reached for comment.

Most of the newspaper's 7,000 copies are distributed free on the North Baltimore campus. Others are sent to the university's medical complex in East Baltimore and to several other area colleges. Mr. Dunlap said he could provide only a rough estimate of how many papers were taken.

The theft recalls an incident last spring at the University of Pennsylvania, in which a group of black students confiscated some 14,000 copies of the student newspaper to protest what they said was a negative portrayal of blacks.

Hopkins officials criticized the cartoon as well the theft of the papers.

"I do not see this as a free speech issue," Larry Benedict, dean of student services, wrote in a letter to the News-Letter.

"I do question, however, the poor editorial taste which has resulted in angering the community and further dividing it."

But the newspaper theft, he added, "is an abridgment of community and individual rights, and violates our student conduct code."

Ms. Lee, the student council president, said the council would consider pulling its advertising from the News-Letter if the paper continues to publish similarly offensive material.

Officials of the junior class voted to remove their advertising from the paper and to refuse to cooperate with News-Letter reporters, according to Rick Sharma, president of the class of 1995.

Some 50 students, including Asians, blacks and whites, took part in a tense forum with News-Letter editors Wednesday night. At least one participant defended the newspaper.

The cartoon was "absolutely tasteless," Rob Arena, a vice-president of the sophomore class, said yesterday. But, he added, "when it comes to opinion, it is nobody's business to decide what is appropriate. That is the concept of the marketplace of ideas."

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