Protest ends in discussion
By Karena Walter
Over 100 students gathered in the University Community Centre's McKellar room yesterday afternoon to express their frustration with The Gazette for not publishing a Black History Month issue.
"A variety of students on campus feel they are not being represented fairly in The Gazette," said Julie Young-Marcellin, president of the Black Students' Association.
For the past two years, The Gazette has published a special pull-out issue in February for Black History Month. This summer the editors decided to publish a cultural diversity issue on Feb. 4 and a Black History Month issue was not scheduled.
At noon yesterday before the forum, the UCC's atrium was packed with students who protested The Gazette's decision and 52 form letters were submitted to the paper expressing dismay with the decision. "I believe most minorities would feel insulted by your feeble attempts to recognize diversity," the letter stated.
The silent protest organized by the BSA turned not-so-silent when Muslim Students' Association president Yakeem Abdool-Ghany called Gazette editor-in-chief Jason Ménard ignorant and physically tore up The Gazette's constitution.
"The speech was something we never saw or heard before and we didn't appreciate that," said Gary Bennett, a member of the BSA. Bennett said he spoke to Abdool-Ghany after the protest to express disappointment in what had happened.
Adbool-Ghany refused to engage in a telephone interview requested late last night. He explained he would only be interviewed in person and with a tape recorder.
During the afternoon's forum, Young-Marcellin said the issue of contention was not about the decision of the paper to run a diversity centrespread last week, but about the silencing of one group which has outraged a number of students and members of the community. "We are all supportive of cultural diversity."
The issue is systemic and comes up over and over again, she said.
"We did not want to devalue Black History Month," Ménard said. "The mistake was the timing of having a diversity issue in February." He added the paper did not realize the problem until after the deadline.
"Yes the timing was wrong. We weren't aware of the sensitivity of the timing. This was not out of malice."
But Young-Marcellin said the reality is students were silenced. "The outcome is the same whether you meant to do it."
Young-Marcellin asked that an ombudsperson be placed within The Gazette who can answer concerns objectively and that a formal apology be printed in the paper and read to the BSA members.
"We stand behind our original decision to print a diversity issue," Ménard said. "Other groups haven't had the same availability to have their issues heard."
Ménard said advertising revenue is higher in February which is why a pull-out is included in that month.
But Young-Marcellin said if the BSA had known beforehand that money was an issue there would have been serious fund-raising efforts.
A lot of groups, like Buddhists, were left out of the diversity issue, said Jessica Smith, a third-year philosophy student. "This is political correctness going too far."
Gazette features editor Natalie Henry said she called all ethnic groups, including the BSA, to submit articles for the diversity issue, but apologized for not calling every group on campus. She said the paper is trying to resolve hurt feelings.
The idea for the forum came about last week because students wanted to have the opportunity to express their opinions and question members of The Gazette, Young-Marcellin said. "Students were asking us for the meeting," she said. "Students felt very emotional and very hurt."
In an editorial board decision made Friday, the features section of the paper for the next two weeks will be dedicated to Black History Month.
In an attempt to resolve the issue, the media advisory board, which is includes members of campus media and the University Students' Council, met after the forum with Young-Marcellin.
"The Gazette tends to attract black students who aren't representative of the black community," Young-Marcellin said at the meeting, adding there have been problems with the Black History Month issues that were published in the last two years.