Picture Book Cover Called Offensive, Will Be ReplacedBy Hyun Soo Kim
At the last minute, President Charles M. Vest asked the Technology Community Association to stop distribution of its Freshman Picture Book, because he felt its cover drawing of a monkey could be perceived as racist by African Americans. Publishing the books with new covers will delay the delivery of the books until Monday night.
Lori A. Weldon '95, who was in charge of producing the picture books, said that the delay will hurt sales.
The original cover shows a monkey wearing glasses, dressed in a cap and a lab coat with a pocket protector, and holding a calculator. The monkey has one arm raised and is asking a question: "What does Œintuitively obvious' mean?!" [See cover picture, page 8.]
"The concern about the picture was that the symbolism of a monkey type of creature has traditionally been used negatively in a racist manner in the United States to depict African Americans," said Susan D. Allen, assistant dean for residence and campus activities.
"The caption added to that [perception]. There are three videos produced at MIT that are titled ŒIntuitively Obvious' done by Black, Hispanic, and Asian MIT students respectively on what it is like to be a Black, Hispanic, or an Asian at MIT," Allen said.
The videos were produced in the past two years and they have been shown on MIT cable and shown to various student and administrative groups, Allen said.
The TCA, a student-run and funded nonprofit organization, produces the Freshman Picture Books. Risa H. Wechsler '96, who helped to design the cover for TCA, said that there was no particular reason why the monkey was chosen.
"It was done by a freelance artist. The picture is from an old book of fairy tales, and was modified slightly so it would be more relevant to MIT. The Œintuitively obvious' caption is a general comical expression used at MIT. It is a frustrating answer given to students who don't understand things," Wechsler said. "It was a relevant comment to MIT life."
Wechsler added that she had not known that MIT produced videos titled "Intuitively Obvious."
Lori A. Weldon '95, who was in charge of producing the picture book, said that she was surprised that anyone found the cover offensive.
Vest, who convened a meeting Tuesday to discuss the cover with TCA, did not say who brought up the complaint. "I had received no complaint because the pictures had not yet been circulated," he said.
Wechsler speculated that an administrator pointed out the possibility of misinterpretation of the cover.
Vest takes responsibility
President Vest stopped the distribution of the picture books with the original cover because the cover "could be misinterpreted as racially derogatory."
"Experiences on many campuses, including ours, clearly indicate such events have caused substantial anguish within the student body and community, despite the fact that no ill will was intended," Vest said.
Weldon said that Vest offered TCA two options. "They said to either sell them without the covers or not sell [the Picture Books] at all," she said.
"I thought - they can't do this. This is censorship, this is wrong," Weldon said. But Weldon suggested a way around the administration's stance. "I suggested printing new covers and that the administration pay for it," she said.
Vest took up her suggestion. "I took responsibility for the decision to replace the cover before its distribution and offered to pay the costs of printing and binding the new cover," he said.
Weldon said that delaying the selling of the picture books will mean that the TCA will take a loss.
"When freshmen do not see it during registration in the first two days of [Residence and Orientation Week], the books don't sell well. The only next opportunity to sell them is Activities Midway," she said.
The new covers of the picture book have a plain white background and a black oval centered on the page. Weldon said that she and Wechsler did not have enough time to design a more complex cover.