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Campus Article Leads to Weeklong Sit-In at Newspaper Office

April 11, 1995

CHICAGO (AP) _ M-B’s. That’s police talk for ``male blacks,″ and when the phrase cropped up in a story about a fight at a campus party, it led to a sit-in that has shut down the student newspaper at DePaul University.

Last week, dozens of DePaul students, most of them black, stormed the office of the weekly DePaulia, ordering staff members to leave. About 20 students have been holed up ever since, with no resolution in sight. Negotiations are continuing with the administration.

Last week, DePaul’s president, the Rev. John Minogue, asked newspaper staffers and protesters to reach an agreement, then suspended publication of Friday’s edition.

The protesters, who include some whites and Hispanics, are demanding the ouster of DePaulia’s editor in chief, 21-year-old Zack Martin, who is white. They are also demanding that the paper publish weekly articles on minority concerns and that the school do more to curtail racism and punish offenders.

The takeover came after weeks of bickering over the Feb. 17 front-page article about a brawl at a campus party. The story quoted a police report describing ``several M-B’s throwing chairs and trash into the crowd.″

Black students complained that the excerpt from the police report _ the only mention of race in the story _ was irrelevant and perpetuated negative stereotypes about blacks.

Black students also have charged that campus security officers who broke up the Feb. 10 fight made racial slurs that weren’t reported in the article.

Following the complaints, the newspaper published an editorial saying the two reporters who covered the fight did not intend to write an unbalanced or insensitive article.

Martin was unsure when the newspaper would resume publication but said it won’t be this week.

Racial tensions had been simmering at the Catholic school on Chicago’s North Side before the protest brought the issue to the fore. Just under 10 percent of the nearly 16,800 students are black. Seventy percent are white.

Black students say administrators and campus security officers have been racially insensitive. Those complaints prompted the university to form a multicultural task force more than a year ago.

``The DePaulia is representative of a bigger evil that DePaul University possesses and that’s insitutionalized racism,″ said Eric Wright, a 20-year-old sophomore among those occupying the newspaper’s basement office.

The editor in chief, who has resisted demands to print an apology, said he didn’t initially see a problem with the story because it quoted directly from a police report.

``We are sorry for the impact the article had on the community,″ Martin said in an interview Tuesday. He added: ``It’s a larger university issue. It just seems that the DePaulia has come under attack because we’re ... a visible medium.″

Caught in the middle is Randall Sawyer, a black DePaulia staffer and 20-year-old sophomore. He defended the article on free-speech grounds but also said he agreed with the protesters that racism pervades the university.

Sawyer said the administration isn’t taking the protesters seriously, and that, in itself, is another sign of campus racism.

Earlier this week, university spokeswoman Denise Mattson said officials viewed the situation as a ``learning experience for the students″ and had no plans to eject the protesters.

Leda Hanin, another school spokeswoman, denied the charge of institutional racism but declined further comment.

``This is a tough situation for all of us,″ she said.

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