The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

​ALJASSAR: The consequences of homogeneity

The Cavalier Daily and organizations around Grounds would be able to address issues more effectively through diverse membership

After witnessing the April Fools’ debacle at our paper, I’ve experienced mixed emotions. I sympathize with the black and Native American students who felt that the April Fools’ articles trivialized their experiences. But I also understand that The Cavalier Daily approached the issue with the good intention of highlighting important issues such as Alcoholic Beverage Control agent violence and the offensive nature of racist-themed parties. These articles were not malicious. They were simply bad pieces of satire that demonstrated a lack of awareness.

Unfortunately, at no point along the editing chain did anybody stop to consider that these articles would be met with outrage and a feeling that the University’s leading publication had wronged its students.

Aside from April Fools’, I think The Cavalier Daily’s writers have done a superb job of reporting on issues sensitive to black communities such as the bloody arrest of Martese Johnson. The Managing Board’s editorials and commentary on such issues have been wonderful. What happened last week was not the fault of any particular individual. It was the result of a staff and leadership team that lacks significant numbers of black writers, editors and leaders.

Imagine if a writer from The Cavalier Daily had produced a satirical news piece about a sexual assault following the rape controversy that gripped the University last semester. Would The Cavalier Daily have decided to run it if it used misogynistic language analogous to “Strong Buffalo” and “Trail of Schmears” in the article about ABC agents and Native Americans? Probably not, because with an all-female Managing Board and a significant amount of female membership, somewhere along the editing chain somebody would question how appropriate it is in light of recent events.

The Black Student Alliance released a statement in which it declared that “this event has only reminded us of the need to bring back a Black publication, for we will not misrepresent ourselves.” The BSA makes a fair point. I do not think the Rosa Parks piece would have been published with stronger black representation in The Cavalier Daily. Somebody along the editing chain would be aware that the article is inappropriate. If I can extract anything from the publication of the April Fools’ articles, it is that the paper’s demonstrated lack of sensitivity toward issues facing minority communities is a natural consequence of homogeneity in our staff. We lack the minority representation to be able to effectively do what we do.

We can generalize this idea to other organizations at the University. An Honor Committee without a diverse pool of support officers and leaders cannot respond to issues facing diverse communities around Grounds as effectively — and I use the term “diverse” to refer to differences beyond just skin color, such as Greek affiliation or socioeconomic status. The University Guide Service cannot reach out to a diversity of tourists as effectively without a diversity of guides.

During the recruitment period, The Cavalier Daily should also make a more conscious effort to recruit staffers from different parts of the University by reaching out to those who, for example, belong to BSA or live in Brown College. I do not know how well organizations such as BSA would respond to outreach efforts given last week’s error. Outreach efforts around the University also tend to be vague and ineffective. Perhaps another solution would involve increasing the number of staffers that read each submission by lengthening the editing chain. If many different pairs of eyes read a piece, the chance that potentially offensive content passes through decreases.

What happened last week illustrates exactly why diversity is so important to our groups and institutions. The Cavalier Daily has produced great work in response to events affecting minority communities, but blunders such as the April Fools’ issue are much more likely to happen if The Cavalier Daily doesn’t seek greater minority representation.

Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at n.aljassar@cavalierdaily.com.

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