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Cartoon in Connecticut student-run newspaper draws protests from Hispanics and other groups


The student-run newspaper at Central Connecticut State University is under fire for publishing a cartoon this week that critics call racist and sexist.


The three-frame comic, titled “Polydongs,” features two characters who mention locking a “14-year-old Latino girl” in a closet and urinating on her. It was published in Wednesday’s edition of The Recorder, a weekly newspaper distributed free on campus.


The university’s president vowed Friday to cut off advertising in the paper and its critics plan a protest Monday on campus to push for reforms, including the ouster of Recorder Editor Mark Rowan.


“We believe the climate here at Central is one that fosters this kind of behavior, so we want more systematic changes to create a welcoming environment for everyone to feel safe and secure,” said Francisco Donis, a psychology professor and president of the university’s Latin American Association.


About 5 percent of the 9,600 undergraduates are Hispanic, according to university figures. The campus is in New Britain, a racially diverse city of 71,000 people about 12 miles southwest of Hartford.


Rowan, 21, was also editor in February when the newspaper was criticized for publishing a satirical opinion piece titled, “Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It.” The satire called sexual assault a “magical experience” that benefits “ugly women.”


The editorial’s author lost his spot at the paper and apologized, but Rowan was allowed to retain his post.


The university created a task force that recommended more training for its student journalists, purchasing libel insurance and creating a student-run alternative paper or Web site.


Rowan, who is scheduled to graduate in December, said lingering anger over that controversy is adding to outrage over the cartoon. He said he did not know if he will be asked to resign.


Criticism is coming largely from faculty members, not students who recognize that shock humor is more commonplace in their generation, he said.


The paper’s editors reviewed the cartoon before it was published and determined it was no more offensive than some episodes of “South Park” or “Family Guy,” he said, two television shows known for off-color humor.


“I’m not surprised that the faculty have a problem with it, because the humor gap is huge from generation to generation,” Rowan said. “Every generation shocks the generation after it.”


The comic featured a phone conversation between a triangle-shaped character and square-shaped character, and makes reference to “Juanita,” described as “that 14-year-old Latino girl tied up in the closet.”


A disclaimer across the bottom of the strip says, “The Recorder does not support the kidnapping of (and subsequent urinating on) children of any age or ethnicity.”


Rowan would not identify the cartoon’s artist, who he said is not connected to the university.


The Recorder is one of several media outlets on campus that receive funding from student fees. It gets about $30,000 annually from those fees, plus about $30,000 from advertising revenue, according to the university records.


University President Jack Miller called the cartoon “deeply offensive,” and Donis and Miller both said several students approached them Friday to discuss their anger and dismay.


Alexander Estrom, CCSU’s student body president, encouraged students Friday to contact their student government representatives about their concerns.


“I, personally, find this week’s publication of The Recorder to be in poor taste and a false representation of student opinion and Central Connecticut State University as a whole,” Estrom said. “University media should be rooted in education, and should not represent intolerance or narrow-mindedness.”


President Miller said the university will encourage more diversity on the paper’s staff; push to hire a full-time faculty member to teach and mentor student journalists; and add more training throughout campus on cultural awareness.


Miller said they also are urging the Student Media Board and other oversight boards to make what he described as “substantive, constructive changes in ameliorating the situation at the Recorder.”


The university advertises infrequently in The Recorder, but will stop altogether, he said.


Rowan said that will not significantly affect the paper’s income, particularly since the university’s ads that were smaller than a quarter-page were free.


However, he said, a national insurer whose insert ads brought in “fairly substantial money” also canceled its advertising Friday.


Rowan, who has held editor positions at The Recorder for about two years, said its staff changes each semester and that they do their best to recruit many different voices. The racial makeup of its staff reflects those who volunteer to work on it, he said.


“We don’t go out there and point out the white kids and call them over,” he said. “We welcome diversity with open arms we just can’t force people to write if they don’t want to.”


On the Web:


The Recorder:

– Associated Press

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