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October 13th, 2010 BETH SLOVIC | News Stories
 

Racial Parody

A Lewis & Clark College student becomes the poster child for political satire on campus.

     
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FIRE OVER SATIRE: This is one of three satirical posters that landed a Lewis & Clark student in trouble.

Lewis & Clark College professors and staff want interim school President Jane Atkinson to expunge a student’s disciplinary record, which alleges the student is guilty of disorderly conduct and harassment.

“We had no business prosecuting him,” says Alan Cole, a religion professor and one of 52 faculty calling for a policy change on the Southwest Portland campus.

The roots of the dispute, which resurfaced at a faculty meeting last week, go back nine months, when the college’s Hawaii Club first distributed posters on campus inviting students to “become a Maori warrior” for a New Zealand haka dance.

Adrian Guerrero, a 20-year-old student activist who identifies as Chicano, found the posters’ message and the accompanying imagery of an indigenous person’s tattoos to be a disturbing example of the misappropriation of native culture. “It was mostly white students who were going to be doing this [performing the haka],” Guerrero says. “It seemed similar to blackface.”

Guerrero, a member of the class of 2012, made new posters to satire the first set. “I was trying to fit what I considered institutional racism at Lewis & Clark,” he says, “into the context of racism in American history.”

His parodies consisted of three posters that invited students to “be like niggy,” “become an African warrior” or “become a black man.” One of the posters featured a man in blackface, another showed Black Panther Huey Newton. The posters all clearly read, “This is some bullshit.” But the date given on all three for the fake event, Feb. 21, 1965, the date of Malcolm X’s assassination, confused some. The room number for the gathering? “40 A&M,” a reference to “40 acres and a mule.”

Celestino Limas, dean of students and Lewis & Clark’s chief diversity officer, responded by sending a campuswide email calling the posters “derogatory” and “beyond inappropriate.” After Guerrero came forward to explain his satiric intent, administrators gave him an option: Go before a conduct panel or plead his case with an administrator. Guerrero chose the latter. Then, an associate dean of students found Guerrero guilty of a hate- and bias-related incident as well as disorderly conduct and harassment.

After months of protest from faculty who recognized Guerrero’s commentary as a sharp critique of racism, not a promotion of it, Atkinson removed one charge, that of engaging in a hate-related incident, from Guerrero’s permanent file.

Many campus professors weren’t appeased. At a faculty meeting last week, renewed calls emerged to clear the student’s record and to evaluate campus policy that allowed a student’s attempt at satire to be turned into a campus crime. Atkinson says she will review the college’s policies on addressing discrimination and harassment. “A campus is a learning environment and a place where people live and work,” Atkinson writes in a statement. “Judiciously balancing the needs of both can be a challenging task.”

 
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