Tensions ran high at the community forum held on April 7 to discuss the April Fools’ issue of The Hoya, and continued anger over the issue as well as several recent acts of intolerance on campus have prompted another community forum slated for next week.
Last week’s forum afforded members of the community the opportunity to voice their opinions on the April Fools’ issue and the issues of sensitivity and inclusion within the paper itself as well as in the larger campus community.
The meeting came a week after The Hoya published a humor issue that many members of the campus community felt was offensive and distasteful. After the issue was published, members of the student body held a meeting to discuss problems, and later approximately 60 students staged a sit-in protest at The Hoya office. A Facebook group with nearly 500 members was also formed to voice opposition to The Hoya’s April Fools’ issue and the paper’s treatment of diversity.
“I think forums like this are very important,” Calen Angert (MSB ’11), president of the Georgetown University Student Association said. “It’s critical that everyone gets together to open up dialogue and at least work toward a general understanding.”
Following the defacement of the Virgin Mary statue on Copley Lawn, defacement of the Professor Jan Karski statue and possible Nazi graffiti, University President John J. DeGioia announced on Tuesday that he plans to hold a community meeting on Monday, April 20, at 5 p.m. in the ICC Auditorium to discuss the steps needed to make the Georgetown community more inclusive.
Approximately 150 students and faculty members attended The Hoya’s forum, which was moderated by Jess Rimington (SFS ’09) and Canaan McCaslin (SFS ’09). The forum began with a statement from The Hoya’s Editor in Chief, Andrew Dwulet (COL ’10), after which Dwulet and five other representatives of The Hoya answered questions voiced by the overflowing crowd.
“We tried to make fun of everything, including ourselves. Our intentions were only to parody. This was not The Hoya’s `tell you what we really think issue,'” Dwulet said. “We put aside the rules of journalism we value so much, and even that proved to be a mistake. A campus and community newspaper must represent all of the community.”
Students and faculty in attendance ranged from representatives of various campus organizations to Jesuits. Some in attendance, like Raffoul Saadeh (SFS ’12), were anxious to see representatives of The Hoya acknowledge the paper’s wrongdoing.
“The main thing I wanted was for The Hoya to accept their mistake, and was delighted to see them understand that their actions had been wrong and intolerable,” Saadeh said.
Others at the forum stood up and demanded more than apologies, calling for future institutional changes to be made. Several members in attendance called for Dwulet’s resignation and possibly the resignation of all members of The Hoya who worked on the April Fools’ issue. Many people in attendance expressed that problems within the April Fools’ issue represented a deeper disconnect in the paper and possibly in the community itself.
The Hoya representatives fielded suggestions from the campus community for the future of The Hoya. Suggestions included open elections for the editors, a third-party report on the culture of The Hoya, diversity and journalism training for staff members and editors, a committee designated to read The Hoya prior to its publication in order to determine if there is insensitivity toward diversity, and that The Hoya implement an ombudsman position.
“I think members of the community expressed a want for concrete solutions, and I think that’s where we need to start putting our collective efforts,” Angert said. “It’s a tricky situation because you want to prevent situations like The Hoya April Fools’ issue without jeopardizing journalistic integrity.”
Angert said that an oversight board could pose problems for free speech on campus, but that required enhanced journalistic and diversity training could work to change the climate of the paper.
“This works not only to prevent the publishing of insensitive material, but it works to alter the climate in which such material is viewed as appropriate,” Angert said. “In conjunction with community outreach and active solicitation of diverse views from The Hoya itself, The Hoya can work to better represent the Georgetown community.”
Saadeh said that it is time for The Hoya to learn from its mistakes and continue its journalistic work.
“Everyone makes mistakes, and I guess it is time for us to open a new page. I would like to see The Hoya become more diverse in order to avoid any situation like this in the future,” Saadeh said. “As a Palestinian Christian, I am a minority within a minority, and I am proud of it. But I would also like for a chance to express my feelings and opinions, and definitely not have people ridicule my race, religion or nationality.”
Julia Shindel (COL ’10), a member of United Feminists and the Georgetown Solidarity Committee; Lauren Lightfoot (MSB ’10), The Fire This Time’s co-editor in chief; Erica Beal (COL ’10), The Fire This Time’s co-editor in chief.; Alessandra Brown (MSB ’09), the president of the Georgetown chapter of the NAACP; Shruti Dusaj, (SFS ’11), co-chair of GU Pride; and Erika Cohen-Derr, director of student programs, could not be reached for comment.
Brian Kesten (COL ’10) Student Commission for Unity chair, and Sophia Zeinu (COL ’10) declined to comment on this report.