A now-infamous cartoon in the April Fool's Day issue of Carnegie Mellon University's student-run newspaper, The Tartan, featuring a joke about hitting a "nigger" with a car, couldn't have come at a worse time for the paper. Not only was the paper's staff in the midst of talks with SPIRIT, the campus African-American cultural organization, about editorial content, it faces a decision at the end of April on whether the university will fund it.
The cartoon in the spoof issue (The Natrat), prompted a protest rally on April 3. Organizer and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity representative Tommy Taylor characterized the comic as "a vile attempt to reduce and trivialize all the efforts that we as minorities, and we as a people, have made on this campus."
Says Cortney Ricketts, president of SPIRIT, about the group's five weeks of meeting with Tartan staff: "After numerous conversations with the editorial board and administrators that have been working with us we were told that we need to accept freedom of speech. I truly do not believe that I should have to walk to class and read slanderous things about my ethnic group or any other ethnic group or any group of women. I think that is ridiculous."
Editor-in-Chief Alex Meseguer apologized to the rally and fired the cartoonist. He went on to outline his intention to suspend normal publication for the remainder of the school year, hold a series of community forums on free speech and discrimination, and the creation of an oversight ombudsman's position.
The independent Tartan, $88,000 in debt, got $2,500 from student activity fees to fund the Natrat. University rules allow students to request that money be returned to the fund, if students gather enough signatures to bring a referendum before the student Senate, says Megan Flocken, chair of the senate's funding and recognition committee, which originally awarded the money. The newspaper's application for full funding by the University will be considered on April 28.