Readers last Thursday got what may have been an uncomfortable taste of freedom of speech. On page four, The Hatchet printed a cartoon depicting what appears to be a naked pledge from the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity being told to eat excrement on the floor by a young man wearing a T-shirt that reads “Proud to be an AEPi pledge 1999.”
It is no mystery what this cartoon insinuates about the fraternities mentioned. And it is not surprising that many on campus viewed it as inflammatory and disgusting. So when members of Zeta Beta Tau and former members of Alpha Epsilon Pi addressed their concerns with me last week, I certainly understood where they were coming from.
Many people have asked why The Hatchet would let such “filth,” as some called it, run in an otherwise respectable publication. The answer roots in the very reason college newspapers exist in the first place.
The Hatchet has two core missions: to provide information members of the GW community need and want to know and to offer a forum for our readers to exchange ideas. At the core of the second mission is the ability for students with an opinion to print what they think and allow others to respond accordingly.
The student who submitted the contentious cartoon is a Hatchet staff cartoonist because he has been drawing cartoons for publication for a long period of time. We run his material because he draws well, and he sparks debate that leads to valuable campus dialogue. You might remember his work with “Biggie Joel” and commentaries on the stereotypes of GW students.
The opinions expressed in cartoons The Hatchet prints do not necessarily reflect those of our organization or staff. Quite frankly, they offend some of us, too. But we’re not here to protect our readers from being upset or even offended to a certain extent. We’re here to promote discourse.
Students have a right to use their student paper to express their thoughts, whether it’s inflammatory or not. Some do it by submitting a letter or a column. And others make their point through illustrations. Either way, it’s speech that The Hatchet will protect vigorously.
The cartoon last week was not simply a pot-shot at a group the cartoonist doesn’t like. It was commentary on an important campus issue that often gets ignored because of the divisiveness of the problem: hazing. It is a fact that Alpha Epsilon Pi lost University recognition for hazing pledges. It is also widely known that many of those pledges returned to campus this year as Zeta Beta Tau members. The cartoon is a gross exaggeration of what one might reasonably expect to happen in such a circumstance: pledges who were once hazed continuing those practices with new members.
While no hard evidence has been presented to substantiate claims of hazing this year, the lingering memory of last year’s offense by the very members who participated certainly makes it an issue worth addressing.
Another example comes in today’s paper. While I can’t say I understand the cartoon, it does seem to make a commentary about GW life that will be valuable to readers by, if in no other way, opening discussion about views on religion on this campus.
When The Hatchet has an opinion to express, we put those views along the left side of page four, under the heading “Our Opinion.” That’s where we print staff editorials, which are formulated by our editorial board. Voting members of that board are indicated in our staff box below the editorials, and other members of our staff give input as well.
If you disagree with an opinion expressed inside our pages, I urge you to submit your comments by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or sending a letter to our office. I also encourage you to submit cartoons. We give all submissions the same consideration – offensive or not.
-The writer, a senior majoring in journalism, is Hatchet editor in chief.
This article appeared in the October 15, 2001 issue of the Hatchet.