Welcome to Halloween 2005, a day for ghosts and goblins to scare us out of our wits. There will be zombies, witches and devils, all very scary, but not the scariest yet.
No, the scariest thing to me this Halloween is the undercurrent of insensitivity and ignorance coursing through our campus, a current that reared its ugly head last week. When the Collegiate Farm Bureau (CFB) chose to produce a flier with an image of a black figure hanging from a tree, the current jumped up and scared me more than any costumed figure ever could.
In a statement given to the Collegian last week, the CFB's public relations manager Melanie Calderwood said they had no intention of offending anyone with the image. Their only intent, Calderwood said, was to raise awareness around Referendums C and D. Intentions are well and good, but the fliers' impact reached far beyond the supposed intent of the farm bureau.
When I first saw the flyer, my initial assumption was the KKK or some other hate group was distributing materials on campus. Then, I took a moment and read the text above it – the "intended" focus of the flier – a public forum on C and D. The forum was certainly not what I focused on when I picked up the flier, and certainly not what many focused on when they did the same. I was offended, and absolutely stunned that anyone could think the use of such a graphic was a good idea. That, friends, was just one of the impacts of the flier; I cannot imagine what the impact must have been for those with racial violence and discrimination in their past.
I spoke with some individuals who feel the flier was an oversight, pure and simple. In this day and age, that is a flimsy and na///ve excuse for such an image. Lynching has been part of the racial terror African Americans had to experience in our country since its inception, a terror that still takes place even today. Simply put, a black figure hanging from a tree has racial undertones written all over it, especially for those who have been affected by such acts. It is an image rife with history, an image that could have easily been avoided if the CFB had put any thought into the advertisements design. I came up with three design changes in about five minutes that could have gotten around the entire issue; yet, they did not, and that bothers me, too. There is no situation wherein a hanging human body is an appropriate political advertisement, especially when there are so many alternatives.
Another argument I heard as a defense for the flier is that it was just a form of expression, protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Some individuals were upset with the university's response to the flier, a response that included a campus-wide letter from President Penley. In the letter, Penley called the image "offensive and chilling," and stated the university would be investigating the events surrounding the graphic. Some feel this is impeding on the group's right to free speech.
In a Collegian article, Penley pointed out an exception to the rule. Under Title VI and Title VII of the U.S. Civil Right Act-an act which prohibits racial discrimination at any institution that receives federal financial aid-the image could be viewed as contributing to a hostile work environment. I agree with the president on the issue. If my past included racial discrimination, I would be worried that I may be employed at an institution that supports such advertisements and opinions.
Penley reacted well within the law, and did so in a way that not only protected the civil rights of those on campus, but also the First Amendment. Free speech is an inalienable right that I value greatly, and as such, I do not believe it has a role in this issue. The CFB created an advertisement that was racist and offensive, no matter their intention. Just because you are protected by the First Amendment does not mean you should make an advertisement that depicts one of the most grotesque acts in a people's history.
Last week, one of our nation's civil rights icons, Rosa Parks, passed away. The movement in which she was such a focal point is not over, and we still have a long way to go in the arena of civil rights and equality, as illustrated by this graphic. Although the intention may not have been there, the effect of the advertisement has been felt well beyond those being advertised to. I hope we can learn from this, because ignorance is the fuel that will continue to feed the fires of racism and inequality, a fuel that can only be eliminated with education and understanding. Hopefully, this incident can start spreading those ideals throughout CSU and the student body, because it is our responsibility to continue the march of equality started so long ago, a march that is nowhere close to its end.
Jake Blumberg is a technical journalism and political science double major. His column runs every Monday in the Collegian.