Newspapers removed by protesters Student publication labeled 'racist'

10,000 UM

November 02, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

Calling the Diamondback "racist," protesters yesterday took roughly half of the 20,000 copies of the student newspaper at the University of Maryland at College Park.

In place of the missing papers, the protesters left a small computer-generated sign that read: "Due to its racist nature, the Diamondback will not be available today. . . . Read a book."

Nobody claimed responsibility for the missing newspapers, which are distributed free, and campus police said they were investigating.

Several students said the protest probably stemmed from a general perception that the Diamondback is insensitive to blacks and other minorities on campus, rather than from any particular article.

"A lot of black students have just stopped reading the paper altogether," said Jeneba K. Jalloh, president of the African Student Association. "Every time they pick up the paper there is something that is racially insensitive."

Some minority students were angry that the newspaper included only one black model out of about seven in an Oct. 20 fashion supplement.

Some blacks also said the newspaper gave too much coverage to last month's suspension of a black fraternity over hazing complaints.

In another recent issue, an account of a campus speech by Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka mistakenly referred to Franklin Douglass, instead of Frederick Douglass, and used an incorrect title for W. E. B. DuBois' landmark 1903 work, "The Souls of Black Folk."

"There are a lot of little things that show there is no understanding" of black issues, said Kera Ritter, a black journalism major who works for the Eclipse, one of two black-oriented publications on campus.

Drew Weaver, the Diamondback's editor in chief, acknowledged that some of the criticism is valid.

"It's not a racist paper," said Mr. Weaver, a senior. "But I think there have been incidents of unfairness in it in the past."

But he said the removal of the papers made him angry.

"I don't think it's a justifiable form of criticism or complaint," he said.

Blacks account for about 11 percent of the 23,300 undergraduates on the College Park campus.

The protest recalls several similar incidents around the country.

Disgruntled black students last spring confiscated some 14,000 copies of the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania to protest its coverage of blacks.

And in late September, someone took 1,400 copies of the Johns Hopkins News-Letter in apparent protest of a cartoon that contained an anti-Asian slur. No disciplinary action has been taken.

The Diamondback, which is formally independent of the university, filed a complaint with campus police, and Mr. Weaver said the editors intend to push for disciplinary action.

Gary M. Stephenson, a campus spokesman, said the university condemns the newspaper removal. "Freedom of expression is a fundamental value in our society and our university," he said. "I think our university is unequivocal in its support for free speech."

The Diamondback's coverage of the black community will be the topic of a campus forum Thursday that had already been planned by a local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Mr. Weaver said he would attend the forum to respond to criticism.

He said he had hoped to improve coverage of black life at College Park when he took over the newspaper in May.

Mr. Weaver said his plans have been hampered by an inability to attract and retain black reporters.

Mr. Weaver based his estimate of the number of missing papers by checking some 20 locations where the paper is normally available.

Newspapers were taken at about half the sites, he said, including large distribution points such as the Stamp Student Union and some campus dining halls.

He said the newspaper would summarize the news stories from yesterday's paper in today's edition.

The Diamondback will reprint the advertisements in tomorrow's paper.

Mr. Weaver was unable to estimate how much the extra printing would cost.

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