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Review editors, American Indian students hold meeting

STANFORD -- Representatives of the Stanford Review and the Native American community, meeting Friday, Dec. 2, at Tresidder Union, agreed that they were all against promoting racism, but seemed to agree on little else, including the definition of racism.

The meeting, attended by about a dozen students and staff members, was held to discuss the Review's use of a scowling Indian caricature, tomahawk in hand, on its “Smoke Signals” column. The column each week takes a topic, such as the Commission on Undergraduate Education, and makes brief and biting comments on that topic.

Aman Verjee, editor-in-chief of the Review, said that he was convinced that many students were offended by the logo, but he raised the question of whether the logo is so offensive that it should be withdrawn, or whether a compromise would be possible.

Verjee proposed that the Review might consider replacing the present caricature with a more distinguished-looking Indian, and asked whether such a logo would be offensive.

Yes, it would be, the Native American students and staff unanimously agreed. “Whether it's a noble Indian or a caricature, it's still a stereotype,” said medical student Sara Jumping Eagle.

Verjee said he chose the Indian logo because he wanted an “appealing visual symbol, with literary flexibility, that is Stanford related.” It is well known, he said, that many Stanford alumni want to bring back the Indian mascot. “Smoke Signals” is not a cerebral column, he said. Whatever logo the Review used would look pugnacious and angry, he said.

At the beginning of the meeting, Renya Ramirez, a graduate student in the School of Education, said that racism “works to desensitize people. It makes it difficult for people in power to listen or hear when others say they are offended.”

But Michael Meyer, senior editor of the Review, said that in his view, racism has to involve an “intention to offend.”

Sally Dickson, director of the Office for Multicultural Development, who was invited to the meeting by the Native American students, asked how the Review staff could decide what was trivial to someone else. “It's almost like saying 'describe to me how much pain you're in.' But if you're not in pain, it's hard to feel it,” Dickson said.

The topic of an Indian stereotype seems to come up every year at Stanford, said Jumping Eagle. Stanford got rid of its Indian mascot in 1972, she reminded the group, and repeated attempts to bring back that mascot “are a form of harassment. Every year we have to explain why [an Indian mascot] is offensive.”

Team symbols such as the Fighting Irish or the Vikings cannot be equated with Indian symbols, Ramirez said, since those groups “have not gone through the same genocidal experience as our ancestors. We are telling you this image is disrespectful and we should not have to explain why.”

Cheryll Hawthorne-Searight, assistant dean in the School of Engineering, asked the Review editors if the Native American students and staff members at the meeting looked like the “Smoke Signals” Indian caricature. “Do we look angry and fierce? Do you see tomahawks in our hands? Do you see a band around any of our heads? Why do we have to beg for understanding and acceptance at Stanford?”

Ed Malone, a Review news editor, said he had opposed the Indian logo from the beginning because he didn't think the Review should resurrect a 20-year-old issue. But, he added, while the logo may be “insensitive” or “unthoughtful,” it is not racist. Racism, he said, advocates “that one race is superior to another. This picture of one Indian does not say a group of people is superior. I don't accept being called racist.”

“We're living in a racist society,” Ramirez said. “I'm saying that it's important we not perpetuate images that hurt others.”

Wilson Pipestem, a law student, said that the Review's caricature of an Indian does not stand alone, but is tied in with the newspaper's harsh criticism of the Native American community at Stanford and of all ethnic theme houses and ethnic centers.

The Review, Verjee said, reflects a set of principles, including free and open discourse and “not having political double standards. We don't see things in terms of cultures, but of individuals.”

Striving to “be caring of each other” is a human principle that other principles should not override, Dickson replied.

Caricatures such as that used in the Review could incite violence, added Ramirez. “In the past, Indians have been viewed as less than human.”

Verjee said that he found the relation between the Review logo and the possibility of violence against Indians “so remote as to not be serious.”

While he doesn't like the Indian logo, Malone said, he doesn't agree that it can be linked to evils perpetrated against Native Americans.

“Most of us who come from the Indian community have to deal with people imposing their ideas that we should be ashamed of our heritage,” said Pipestem. “Many of the social ills that Indians are dealing with today can be traced to that sense of shame.”

“You cannot tell us what our experiences are,” Ramirez added. “Native Americans still have the highest suicide rate in this country and our children still encounter racism in school. We're not going to let this [Review logo issue] go. My children are hurt by this.

“I feel like you didn't listen and didn't hear me,” Ramirez told the Review editors. “When you leave this meeting, try to use your hearts, use your emotions. Your minds are not letting you listen. Don't get into arguments: 'Is it this, is it that?' Just open your hearts.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 6, Verjee said the Review staff would meet later this week to discuss whether to continue using the Indian logo. A decision might be made then, he said, or might be postponed if the staff decides it needs more information.

Jee-Young Shin also contributed to this story.


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