Campus debates Primary Source 'carol'
Amid apology for racially charged item, some call for censorship, defunding of journal
Published: Monday, December 11, 2006
Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2008 13:08
After an eruption of outrage and controversy this past weekend over a satirical "Christmas carol" printed in The Primary Source, Tufts' journal of conservative thought, on Dec. 6, the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate hosted an open forum discussion on the contentious piece last night in the campus center.
The 27-line poem, entitled "O Come All Ye Black Folk," was intended as a dig at affirmative action policies, but referred to black students as "boisterous yet desirable," accepted by the University "no matter what your grades are, F, D's, or G's," and "born into the ghetto."
But an overwhelming chorus said they went too far, at the meeting sparking an at-times intense discussion about affirmative action and the freedom of college media. It also addressed the Source's on-campus role, with some calling for censorship or defunding of the journal.
Robinson opened the floor to an open forum, asking those assembled to keep their statements brief and respectful.
"We live in a nation and go to a school where free thinking is endorsed, however, when free thinking becomes derogatory or offensive, and ill-willed, this Senate will not stand silent, and neither will the Tufts student body," TCU President Mitch Robinson told the large conference room, packed full of students, with more spilling out the door, crowding local media cameras which had assembled for the meeting.
Local FOX 25 and CBS WBZ 4 television affiliates ran the piece as the lead story on their evening newscasts, which ran at 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., respectively.
"As a Senate we completely condemn the offensive content found in the recent issue of the Primary Source, and emphasize that these remarks are not an embodiment of the Tufts student body," Robinson said.
Alison Hoover, the fall semester's editor-in-chief of the Primary Source, first issued an apology for the wording of the poem.
"The motto of The Primary Source is Veritas Sine Dolo: Truth Without Sorrow," Hoover said. "Part of Veritas Sine Dolo is pointing out errors we see at this university; part of it is admitting when we make mistakes."
The song intended to criticize affirmative action by adopting the perspective of an admissions officer, Hoover said. "However, many people interpret this carol as having crossed the line from making fun of a harmful institution to making fun of the black race."
"This was not my intention; it is not the opinion of The Primary Source that there are no qualified black students at Tufts University or that any of the other generalizations in the song are true. I apologize that this carol did not accurately reflect the views of The Primary Source, and I take full responsibility for failing to edit it to ensure that it did."
Responses expanded to a larger discussion of the Source's history of walking the fine line between controversy and unacceptable content.
David Igbalajobi, a member of the Black Men's Group and the African Student Organization (ASO) expressed a deep frustration about the Source's history. "This is not the first instance of insultative [sic] statements to the black community," he said. "This is not an isolated event."
While Source members retained their apologetic stance towards the wording of the particular carol, they did little apologizing for the publication as a whole or their views on affirmative action.
"I don't stand by how the carol is phrased, but other than that, I would go out on the ResQuad - though you'd have to excuse my singing voice - and sing every other carol published," Hoover said. "I stand behind everything that is published in the magazine.
"I think that it would be a mistake to assume that Alison's apology is just saying that we are sorry for offending anyone," Jordan Greene, assistant Source editor and president of the Tufts Republicans, said. "As long as Tufts continues to use racially driven policies, then I will continue to make fun of [the policies] at every chance I get."
With many frustrated by longtime clashes with the magazine, students deliberated potential courses of action, which ranged from dialogue to limiting the Source's funding.
Some said the magazine had erred one time too many.
"They can't allow publications that are so offensive to other communities on campus," Igbalajobi said. "This discussion is a beginning but if it ends here, then more things like this will happen."
"If these are the type of things we are going to expect from the Primary Source, then it should be ended," he added later in the meeting.
Several students were adamant that their student activities fees not fund discourse they considered racist, and called for greater oversight of student publications.
"My mandate to Senate is to cut funding from the student activity fees for campus publications which slander me," senior Onika Williams said. "My mother did not pay for this."
Sophomore Sofia Nelson called for a punishment for publications that print racist material. "Students aren't allowed to commit bias incidents," she said. "Publications shouldn't either, particularly those funded by the University."
Others called for more oversight.
"I urge Senate to ask campus publications to make a life long pledge to say that they won't do things to offend different communities," senior Biodun Kajopaiye said.
Eyal Amit, a sophomore, had another suggestion.
"Just thinking about solutions, maybe the publication should be held under a minority authority," he said.
"I'm against silencing the Primary Source," junior Ashley Bethel said. "To cut their funding or reduce it is to silence a thought that we need to know is there."
"It's ridiculous to remove funding for groups you disagree with," Greene responded. "If you guys can't differentiate between an unapologetic critique of racial preferencing and racism, then you need more of the Primary Source than I thought."