UM racial progress questioned Blacks complain about newspaper

November 03, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer Staff writers David Michael Ettlin and Edward Lee contributed to this article.

The taking of some 10,000 copies of the student newspaper at the University of Maryland at College Park on Monday was intended to protest the Diamondback's supposed racist nature.

It was also a striking reminder that racial concerns hover near the surface at the state's flagship college, where blacks make up about 11 percent of the 23,300 undergraduates.

In some ways, the Diamondback's problems are a high-profile reflection of those of the campus at large.

While the newspaper's doors are open to anyone, many black student journalists prefer to work on the staffs of black-oriented campus publications where they say they feel more welcome.

And, while well-meaning white editors may think that they are making progress covering blacks on campus, many black students zero in on the newspaper's blunders.

"It just seems like the Diamondback has consistently shown the white community in a more positive light than how they portray minorities on this campus," said black junior Robert Guice of Delran, N.J.

The protest comes at a time when the university, in an effort to defend its blacks-only Banneker scholarship program, has had to publicly declare that the campus suffers from lingering effects of segregation.

In federal court two weeks ago, university lawyers said the black community still perceives that the campus is hostile to black students.

"As far as we're concerned now, that [hostility] is ancient history," said Gary Stephenson, a campus spokesman. "But perceptions and attitudes linger for a long, long time."

Likewise, blacks have long criticized the Diamondback, saying that it ignores positive black news, overplays the negative, and sometimes gets facts about blacks wrong.

"Since I've been a freshman here, I've always heard that the Diamondback doesn't cover the black community adequately," said Michael B. Dunston, a black senior majoring in broadcast journalism. "It depicts the black community in a very bad light. If journalism is to be true and show events in their true light, we have to be fair and show everybody."

In all, roughly half of Monday's 20,000 papers were taken, according to editors. In place of the papers at several locations, someone left a computer-generated message that read: "Due to its racist nature, the Diamondback will not be available today . . . Read a book."

At the Diamondback, which is formally independent of the university, top editors say they have tried to address black concerns since taking over last May.

"These aren't new complaints, these are things we've heard before," said Patricia Logue, the No. 2 editor, who is white. "We've made a conscious effort to try to get more minorities to come up here and write for us, try to make it a little more comfortable. We're succeeding slowly. It's not an easy thing."

Two of the paper's 19 editors and about five of the reporting staff of about 30 are black, said Drew Weaver, the editor in chief, who is white.

"I want to start making progress," Mr. Weaver said last night. "I'm frustrated in that I get a lot of nameless, pointless complaints, with no real substance to them. I wish that everyone would calm down and talk . . . or come up and write."

pTC The subject of the Diamondback's coverage of blacks was already scheduled to be discussed at a forum sponsored by black student journalists tomorrow.

And in response to the protest, the College of Journalism quickly arranged for a campus forum Nov. 12 on diversity in the newsroom.

Meanwhile, President William E. Kirwan issued a statement that criticized the destruction of the newspapers but skirted the underlying complaints about the Diamondback.

"We believe that there are constructive ways of identifying issues and resolving conflict," Dr. Kirwan said. "We encourage all members of the university community to utilize such means in addressing differences when they arise."

The Diamondback has had only one black editor in chief, Ivan Penn. Even during his stint two years ago, complaints from black students flowed in.

Mr. Penn, now a reporter for The Sun, said that students were upset over several photographs, including one that showed a white sorority member holding a black child during a charity event. The photograph perpetuated the stereotype of the benevolent white person helping the downtrodden black, Mr. Penn was told.

Campus authorities yesterday said they had not identified anyone involved with taking the papers Monday. One witness saw three people, all black, taking papers early Monday from the engineering building, according to a campus spokesman.

A report in the Diamondback said that two women, one black and one Asian, were seen taking papers.

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