Letter from the Editor: Reckoning with The Catalyst’s Racist Past

Last summer, the previous Editor-in-Chief of The Catalyst, Samantha Silverman, and I spent several days organizing and archiving past editions of the paper dating as far back as the first issue of the second volume, published Sept. 4, 1970. Though the publication began in 1890—originally named “The Tiger”—48 years of newspapers still provided a lot of insight into the history of The Catalyst.

Photo by Daniel Sarché

Old front-page headlines range from “Are CC students getting smarter?” in 2007 and “Mack, attack, and shack: Is that all there is to the campus love scene?” in 1997 to “Greek trip to Tennessee ends in disgrace” in 1995 and “Dean Ives resigns to promote worldwide peace” in 1987. There were some excellently reported issues, and some that took journalism as a joke. In quality, layout, staff, and content, The Catalyst has evolved many times.

However, throughout the archival process, we frequently stumbled upon recurring themes. Many old Catalyst articles focus on the same topics that we report on today—“Housing shortage forces overcrowding” in 1994, “Budget debate creates chaos” in 1984, and “Five percent tuition increase finalized for upcoming school year” in 2014 many headlines like that could appear in an issue this Block.

The Catalyst runs in these sorts of repetitive cycles, but as a publication anchored to the ebbs and flows of an institution, this is much more reflective of Colorado College than it is of the paper.

In light of recent events, this article is intended to address one of these recurrences at Colorado College and The Catalyst’s failure to appropriately navigate and report on it: racism. The college  has displayed a history of failure regarding issues of race, and the paper unfortunately shares this past.

I find it imperative to confront the role our publication has played in creating an unwelcoming environment on campus and in spreading hateful, racist, and tone-deaf rhetoric, perhaps now more than ever.

The most notable and well-known offense can be traced back to a 2002 April Fools’ satire edition, The Cattle Piss. An ill-conceived article about a new cartoon channel that would cater to a black audience, titled “N****lodeon,” resulted in campus outrage and the firing of two editors. The contents of the article mirror that of the recent heinous email received by campus; it is full of insensitivity, harmful and fallacious stereotypes, derogatory language, and vulgar imagery.

The same issue listed the staff members as “slaves” and featured a fake ad displaying “Commie F**s” in bold. It is embarrassing to be a member of a publication that would have ever allowed this to happen.

Additionally, the response of the staff in the following issue was disappointing and far from redeeming. Editor-in-Chief Audrey Thompson reiterated throughout her apology, “I personally am to blame for the entire incident. This was my fault, and only my own.”

I disagree with my predecessor; this abysmal failure of journalism was enabled by a publication, an institution, and a society, not a sole individual.

I would like to echo the response of Lacey Ramirez, who at the time wrote, “I do not solely hold the editors and the writers of The Catalyst responsible. I feel that the institution of The Colorado College is also accountable. Maybe the administration and faculty are not in direct correspondence with the actual newspaper, but obviously the cultural education on campus is lacking.”

Unfortunately, this lack of sensitivity is easily traceable throughout The Catalyst. April 2002 is not the only incident of lewd insensitivity in the history of the paper. One year before, in the 2001 satirical Cattle Fist, the paper included a letter to the editor titled, “Check dis out, ‘espense. Yo’ ass won’t recon’ it, beeeatch.” As one may assume from the title, the piece is exceedingly ignorant and disparaging.

Furthermore, the 1975 satirical issue, The Cattlelist, featured a letter in their “What They Think” column in which the writer attempts to provide a satirical example of why men should be afraid of sexual assault. The writer details being jumped by a “big, big Aboriginee Woman from Hungaria, wearing only her boomerang and jockstrap.” He goes on to describe being saved, “and the old Aboriginee woman takes off up into the tree or into her hole in the ground, or wherever them type probably stay when they’re off duty.”

Despite the forward-thinking present in many Catalyst articles from the 70s, uneducated and racist thoughts still made it to print. This article was particularly reprehensible for the jovial tone it attempts to transpose over the offensive content, which clearly had the intent of negatively portraying indigenous populations as uncivilized.   

Though I’ve mentioned several April Fools’ satire issues, the problem is not isolated to miserable attempts at humor—May 6, 2005, The Catalyst front page featured the headline “Does race matter at CC?” for an article about the Race Matters Symposium. Two sentences included in the article are, “Even if race matters, it seems that ‘Race Matters’ did not” and “The disappointment in the response to Race Matters seems to feed off of an assumption that race is an issue on campus.” Both of these statements fail to inspire a sense that The Catalyst believes race matters.

Though the writer references the 2002 incident and acknowledges at the end that race does in fact matter, lines such as those above reflect a lack of commitment to this conclusion. The tone is haughty and dismissive, therefore contributing to the problem the article sought to address.

Most recently, in 2016, The Catalyst mistook one black student for another in a photo caption, mislabeling Mekael Daniel as Rachel Hyppolite, and our apology was lackluster. Not only did it take several months to realize an error had been made in our online content (the caption was different in print), we failed to address the inexcusability of the mistake, we never apologized to Hyppolite. and while we did apologize to Daniel, the apology itself felt overall dismissive.

To cite the Letter to the Editor written by Daniel, Hyppolite, and Brittany Camacho in May 2017, “The Catalyst cannot merely be held ‘accountable’ for a misprint, it must work toward tightening up its fact-checking processes, its outreach to members of this campus, and of either making an across the board decision to refer to featured images as ‘students,’ or as the vibrant and necessary members of this community that they truly are.”

Additionally, The Catalyst is not the only Cutler Publication with a history of racially insensitive content. In 2004, the Cipher published an edition in which an uncensored “is it okay if I call you n*****?” appears on the cover, followed by an article titled “n*****: investigating the exportation of slang through hip-hop,” written by Michael Beckel, a white editor.

Only confronting our mistakes is not enough, though. We as publications  and as individuals  need to do more to amend the blunders of our predecessors—I hope this issue is a start. In the future, The Catalyst hopes to garner a more diverse and representative staff in both the editing room and among writers; we intend to show greater sensitivity and diligence throughout every step of the writing and editing process, and we aim to put forth a greater effort in deconstructing racist and hateful rhetoric with journalism that has both honesty and integrity.

Jonathan Tignor

Jonathan Tignor

Jonathan Tignor '19 began as a writer then editor for the Life section, but he is now The Catalyst's Editor in Chief. He is a Creative Writing major with additional interests in Journalism, Theatre, Philosophy, and Education.
Jonathan Tignor

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One thought on “Letter from the Editor: Reckoning with The Catalyst’s Racist Past

  1. If you’d like more insight into how the offensive article could possibly have hit the stands in 2002, you may contact me directly. I’ve gained significant perspective over 16 years and would be happy to share. Although you’ve hit the broad strokes, I believe it ended up being a positive experience for the community at large due to student and faculty responses. Perhaps justifiably, it did effectively nullify my CC education and taint my future degrees. I’m sure it will please some people that I have never dug my way out of the hole I created by allowing that article to be printed, and I likely never will.

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