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Students Protest Against The Tech With Charges of Racist Tendencies

Gabor Csanyi - The Tech
Protestors prepare to hand out flyers in front of stacks of The Tech in Lobby 7 on Friday morning.

By Zareena Hussain
associate news editor

A group of students distributed pamphlets in protest of The Tech and The Absolut Tech, a spoof of The Tech published on April 17, in Lobby 7 on Friday.

The pamphlet included a letter addressed to The Tech editorial staff outlining the protesters' grievances against The Tech as well as a platform for increasing multicultural awareness at MIT.

The protesters collected issues of The Tech from various distribution points on campus and moved them to Lobby 7.

Protest served dual purpose

The purpose of the protest was two-fold, said Joaquin S. Terrones '97, the organizer of the protest. He said the goal was to make people aware of racial issues and to highlight the lack of resources for racial minorities at MIT. Part of these goals was to make The Tech more responsible for its content.

The protesters stated in the pamphlet that "The Tech's comfort in using racist humor is only indicative of a growing atmosphere of intolerance on campus." To combat this intolerance, the pamphlet listed demands for resources currently lacking at MIT.

Two resources that required immediate attention were an Asian American administrator to address the needs of Asian American students at MIT and an ethnic studies program, the pamphlet said.

"Currently, there are 30 courses that deal with ethnicity and race," Terrones said. However, "they are scattered across the campus. Students don't know about them."

Some longer term goals outlined in the pamphlet were the establishment of a multicultural center and an increase in the number of minority faculty, especially women. The protesters also called for more tenured professors to teach courses in black, Hispanic American, or Asian American studies, an increase in the number of minorities in the administration, and a comprehensive, mandatory program that focuses on diversity for all freshmen during Residence and Orientation Week.

"I think that it's something that will benefit people of color, in particular, and everyone as a whole," Terrones said.

Letter outlines racist stereotypes

The letter in the pamphlet listed complaints against The Absolut Tech, which "consistently resorted to stereotypical depictions of people of color for its humor," the letter said.

The letter also said that "racist humor has always had a place at The Tech," including the "Rhino Man" comic the paper runs. One of the characters in "Rhino Man" was considered by the protesters to promote anti-Asian stereotypes.

"Comics such as Rhino Man' can cause resentment toward people of color," Terrones said.

"In a racist society like the U.S., it takes very little to rile people up against people of color," Terrones said.

The letter was signed by the Asian Pacific American Caucus; La Unin Chicana por Aztln; the Black Students Union; the MIT Arab Alliance Against Racism; the Committee for Social Justice; Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders, and Friends at MIT; the Alternative News Collective; Student Party for a Progressive Movement; and Black Graduate Student Association.

Protesters threaten to boycott

The letter later said, "We are also within our rights to boycott a newspaper that recirculates the same stereotypes that are used to oppress us daily."

"The point of a stereotype is that you don't have to think" about the person being stereotyped, Terrones said. "You've dehumanized them."

"We are sending a copy of this letter to all your advertisers to let them know why we will not be reading your newspaper anymore," the letter said.

The protesters have sent the letter in the pamphlet to MIT offices and departments and are currently compiling a list of advertisers to whom to send the letter, Terrones said.

Individual leaders of most of the groups that signed the letter refused to comment on the protest, instead each issuing this statement separately: "Since [we are] currently boycotting The Tech, we do not feel that it would be appropriate for us to respond to your questions. We have no desire to continue any dialogue within the pages of your newspaper. Until we see a substantive change in your newspaper's attitudes towards people of color, we will work with you only with the administration as an intermediary."

The Alternative News Collective and the BGSA could not be reached for comment.

The Tech responds to accusations

Editor in Chief of The Tech David D. Hsu '98 responded to accusations of anti-Asian sentiment within the pages of the newspaper.

"I'm an Asian American," Hsu said. "I do not consider myself insensitive to the issues of Asian Americans."

"The Tech has always tried to be objective in its coverage in its coverage of issues involving the MIT community," Hsu said. "There has never been any racially malicious intent on the part of Tech staffers or editors."

The letter also stated that The Tech's response to calls for dialogue at a forum held by some of the student groups on the issue of racism in the media was "not only to recapitulate [The Tech's] racist stereotypes of Asians, but also to target other minority groups."

"No Tech staffers or editors were personally invited or invited as a group" to the forum, Hsu said. "Dialogue can be achieved in better ways than a pillar poster."

Zachary B. Emig '98, the cartoonist behind "Rhino Man," said he attended a forum held by the Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Committee for Social Justice to address issues of anti-Asian stereotypes in his comic. Those whom he talked with believed Dr. Sasori, a character in the comic who is now dead in its storyline, was an example of an anti-Asian caricature, he said.

Those who took issue with the portrayal of Dr. Sasori as anti-Asian had not read the comic strip from the beginning to see the full development of the character, Emig said.

"I think I've differentiated him from a caricature," Emig said.

"I don't think people should promote anti-Asian stereotypes," Emig said, adding that the protesters efforts were "misguided."