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Cartoon Causes Race Tension at URI

December 11, 1998

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) _ Racial tensions have been exposed at the University of Rhode Island after a cartoon about affirmative action in the student newspaper led to protests and a cutoff of the paper’s funding.

Since the cartoon ran last week, about a dozen black students calling themselves Brothers United for Action have demanded The Good 5 Cent Cigar be shut down.

The group marched in military formation Dec. 4 with 200 others behind them to the newspaper’s office, where they yelled at editors and threw newspapers on the ground.

The cartoon, about the dismantling of affirmative action at the University of Texas Law School, shows a white professor greeting a black man entering his classroom.

``If you’re the janitor, please wait until after class to empty the trash,″ the professor says. ``If you’re one of our minority students, welcome!″

The newspaper’s editors, who are white, said they ran the cartoon to express disgust with the attack on affirmative action in Texas. A federal judge in 1996 ruled that the law school’s system was unconstitutional.

But black students said the cartoon is just the latest in a string of racial insults at the university, which has about 9,900 undergraduates, 3.7 percent of them black.

A white student urinated on a black disc jockey at last year’s Midnight Madness basketball event, and small groups of students chanted racial epithets at the players. Last month, a racist message was left on the answering machine at the school’s affirmative action office.

More than 500 people packed the room Wednesday for a forum, sponsored by the Rhode Island Press Association, on the First Amendment and the controversy over the cartoon.

Marc Hardge, a panelist and member of Brothers United for Action, said the controversy shows that ``there seems to be an effort to squeeze people of color from higher education.″

The student Senate froze funding last week for the Cigar. Funding was restored after the First Amendment forum. But the cutoff prompted local journalists and journalism organizations to pledge $3,000 in donations to keep the paper publishing.

URI students said they’ve never seen the campus so fired up.

``They keep arguing, `Should the Cigar apologize? Should the Brothers United for Action close the newspaper?′ The good thing is they’re exposing racism on this campus,″ said senior Karyn Smith.

University President Robert Carothers promised a similar forum on racism.

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