Letters to the editor of apology, defense and truth
Letter from the editor
To the readers of the Louisville Cardinal, candidates and members of the SGA, U of L Greek organizations and audience members:
During a live-tweet of last night’s SGA Debates, a writer from The Louisville Cardinal described an act of enthusiasm for an SGA candidate during the SGA debates. The tweet read: “There is no need to flash your sorority gang signs while candidates talk. #SGADebates #CrowdControl.” This tweet was broadcasted not on an opinion or personal account, but on our news account.
As soon as I was aware of the tweet, I logged in and immediately removed it. I asked the writer to refrain from any further participation in the discussion as a representative of The Louisville Cardinal, and said the same thing to a second writer who was responding to the event publicly.
The tweet was wrong for a number of reasons. As a news account, editorial obviously has no place in the event coverage. This is particularly significant because the news event was a political debate. The tweet specifically targets the behavior of Greek organizations in the audience and could be easily read as supportive of non-Greek candidates for this reason. That is not the position of The Louisville Cardinal, and does not square with our efforts to maintain news integrity when covering news events.
A large portion of responses to the tweet have come from students of color who were deeply offended by it. This brings us to the second reason the tweet was wrong.
While the writer has made it clear to me that the tweet described a white audience member’s response to a white candidate, and that the writer’s intentions were not to racially target audience members, the racial subtext of the statement is undeniable. For those readers who have written us defending the tweet, I need to explain why this is the case.
The writer unknowingly treaded into some very ugly stereotypes about people of color. These stereotypes exist because of how frequently organized groups of people of color are denigrated as “gangs” in both political and media spheres. This is often intertwined with the stereotype that people of color (and particularly people who are black) are aggressive or loud in public.
What is likely to be the most hurtful in this tweet may be the subtext in “#CrowdControl”. Whether the writer realized it or not, those words have a succinct meaning. “Crowd control” was, historically (and sometimes still is), a euphemism used by white police to describe violent acts against protesters of color. In the past, “crowd control” has described the use of attack dogs and water hoses against civil rights activists.
Personally, and on behalf of The Louisville Cardinal, I would like to apologize for this lapse of judgement. This remark was indefensible, and deserves every bit of criticism it has received. A remark like that gives readers the impression that The Louisville Cardinal is not an equal platform for all students. And so long as I have anything to say about it, that will never be the case.
The voices of people of color are too often shut out of conversations about race both nationally, and on campus. The Louisville Cardinal will never comply with that silence. Neither will I. We want to hear (and publish) student responses and see student engagement– about this incident and about every topic on campus. We want to hear from white students and students of color alike.
As sorry as I am to have had this happen on my watch, I can also say that I’m lucky to be in a position where I can make the kinds of changes that can prevent this from happening again. Today we get to do what we wish every organization would do when this happens: we get to be 100 percent real about it. We get to set a precedent for transparency, student engagement, and racial awareness in the media. We get to be an example of an organization that admits its mistake and, instead of dismissing or denying it, rolls up its sleeves and works to find a path toward long-term change.
Rae Hodge, Editor-in-Chief
In response to the Editor-in-Chief: an apology and a defense
I would like to start this letter off with an apology. My tweet that read, “There is no need to flash your sorority gang signs while candidates talk. #SGADebates #CrowdControl” should not have been posted through the Cardinal’s news account. Posting an expression of personal opinion through a news account was inappropriate, and I apologize. It was editorializing and I can promise it will not happen again. A personal opinion about the audience had no place in the Cardinal’s news coverage.
I should have posted the tweet through my personal twitter account. I am not apologizing for the tweet itself, only that it was incorrectly posted, misconstrued as news when it’s an opinion. But I am not apologizing for my opinion.
This opinion was my reaction to girls in the audience, who, while a candidate was speaking and trying to get her message across, were raising their hands above their head in the sign that represents their sorority. I thought this was inappropriate, as the show of support for their sorority had no place in a discussion about candidates being a voice for the whole student body, not just the students associated with one particular organization. I felt that these hand motions distracted from the speake, and the message the speaker was trying to convey. And so I made a joke about it.
While the Editor-in-Chief said in her letter, “the racial subtext of the statement is undeniable,” I deny it. I would like to point out that there is no subtext to the word “gang” that associates it with black people.
A style note: The Associated Press Stylebook, the style in which journalists should follow, reads, “The preferred usage for African Americans is ‘black.’ The term is not capitalized.” For this reason I will be using the word “black” over the phrase “people of color” used in the letter to which I am responding.
“There are approximately 1.4 million active street, prison, and OMG gang members comprising more than 33,000 gangs in the United States. Many communities are also experiencing an increase in ethnic-based gangs such as African, Asian, Caribbean and Eurasian gangs,” reads the FBI’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. Because of this, because of the fact that there are gang-members of every race across the world and even in the U.S. we’re seeing a rise of both Asian and Hispanic gangs, I argue that the word “gang” has no inherent racial association.
If one reads the word “gang” and thinks “black” that person is the one creating the connotation and assigning racial undertones to the word, not the person who wrote it. There is nothing racist about the word gang if every race has its own gangs. According to the National Gang Center’s bulletin on the history of street gangs in the United States, “Gang emergence in the Northeast and Midwest was fueled by immigration and poverty, first by two waves of poor, largely white families from Europe.” Yes, I completely agree that “gang” is a word with a negative connotation, but it is not a racial connotation.
I disagree completely with the part of the letter dedicated to the dissection of the hash-tag “crowd control.” “Crowd control,” again, has no idea of race associated with it unless assigned so by the reader. This so called “euphemism” could have just as easily, and has probably more frequently, been seen as a negative police reaction from police of any race to protestors of any race. We could look at the so-called “crowd control” of protests in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. Or we could associate crowd control with the actions of the Ohio National Guard, who fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine Kent State students. This event took place in 1970 and was an anti-war rally that had nothing to do with race. The so called “succinct meaning” of “crowd control” was given to it by the writer of the letter, not history as she claims.
I would also like to point out that while reading responses to the tweet, all responses objected to the word “gang” and I didn’t see any objection to the words “crowd control” until reading this letter.
This tweet was meant as, and stands as, a critique, in the form of a joke, on the actions of the audience of the debate. While the candidates speaking represent the entire student body, the show of support for a single sorority is out of place. Furthermore, it was a distracting show of support, not a t-shirt or applause at the introduction of a candidate, but hands stuck in the air while a candidate answered a question during the debate.
The negative connotations of the word “gang” were directed at the girls who tried to make a debate for the entire student body about their own organization. When questions were asked about how candidates were going to make sure all students were heard, attempting to represent your club is uncalled for, and thus, the negative word for a negative action.
I stand by what I wrote and challenge anyone who read it and thought it was a racial reference to look at their own views on race. You made my tweet about race, I did not.
Genevieve Mills, Assistant News Editor
Response to SGA debate coverage
During the Student Government Top 4 Debate that took place this evening, The Louisville Cardinal offered coverage via Twitter for those unable to attend. While much of this coverage was very informative, fair and balanced. One tweet was incredibly offensive and unacceptable for a news outlet of any kind; student or professional.
It read: “There is no need to flash your sorority gang signs while candidates talk. #SGADebates #CrowdControl.”
This is unacceptable on multiple levels. First of all it abhors the first rule of Journalism Ethics: Neutrality. Under the heading of “Integrity” the Associated Press’ Statement of Ethical Principles states: “Editorials and expressions of personal opinion by reporters and editors should be clearly labeled…The Newspaper should report the news without regard for its own interests.” This tweet completely defies this principle; as well as any other ethical statement regarding opinions in journalism.
Secondly, the tweet is completely disrespectful towards not only the sorority members present at the debate but also Greek Life at the University of Louisville and on campuses everywhere. By making any kind of inference towards sororities as “gangs” is preposterous. Instead of libeling sororities, why not ask what the motion means, instead of grouping Chi Omega or Kappa Delta with the Bloods and the Crips. I understand that some members of the Cardinal may not be involved in the Greek Community but that gives no excuse for the paper to make statements about that which they do not understand. A journalist’s job is to find and report the truth, not mock it.
Finally, whoever was present at the event would clearly attest that the motions that the tweet refers to were associated with one slate. This tweet provides preference to the other two slates involved, once again showing the Cardinal’s favoritism to one side. It is the job of newspapers to endorse candidates; but that takes place in the editorial section not on the public twitter of the paper.
It is my understanding that the tweet has since been deleted. However, I hope the paper will not see this situation as a slight mishap but as a sign of the paper’s inability to strike resonance with the student body and the Greek community: a group that has provided immense support for this campus year after year. I hope that if it is not already in the works, a formal apology will be sent to both the sororities of this campus but also the slate the tweet was directed towards; and that a formal apology will be run in the next edition of the Louisville Cardinal.
I believe the Cardinal has the opportunity to provide a critical but neutral voice during this SGA Election, and I hope you can take this mistake as a learning opportunity on how to better serve the student body. As a student of journalism, I certainly hope this will be the case.
Gabriel Duverge, Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity