Kernel cartoon forum panelists express need for communication

By Rebecca Sweeney

A forum last night about a controversial Kernel cartoon, which likened UK’s Greek system to a slave auction, seemed to “sweep the real issue under the rug,” said one panel member.

“The real issue is having good communication and understanding other people’s perspectives on things,” said Jasmine Whitlow, a journalism freshman, after the discussion. “Some people are offended and some are not, so there is a miscommunication.”

Panelist Bobby Houlihan, a Lexington media attorney, said the panel was successful in bringing people together to talk about the cartoon and ensuing controversy.

“We’ve got a decent group of people here to discuss the issues,” Houlihan said. “Denying it or being mad about it won’t help.”

Whitlow, who participated in the initial protest of the Oct. 5 cartoon, was one of six panel members who discussed the controversy regarding the cartoon and answered audience questions in the College of Law Courtroom.  The forum was sponsored by the College of Law.

Brad Fletcher, the cartoon’s artist, was also on the panel and said he was surprised by the reaction to his cartoon.

“I thought I was pointing a finger at the same institutional racism we’re talking about now and that’s been in the letters to the editor at the Kernel and the (Lexington) Herald-Leader,” Fletcher said. “The symbolism of the African-American character in chains was intended to show a person involuntarily placed in front of fraternities because the fraternities had been pressured to integrate the organizations, but I don’t think that came across at all.”

Lexington Herald-Leader cartoonist Joel Pett was another panel member and said cartoons must focus on one idea to convey a larger picture. Pett said cartoons must often be controversial to get a message across.

“In satire, if you don’t cross the line, you lose the sense of where it is,” Pett said.

The cartoon represented ignorance and overstepped boundaries, Whitlow said, but made several people, including her, realize that racism is still alive.

UK history professor and panelist Joanne Melish said the way in which the cartoon implied that the Greek system is the only form of racism at UK is offensive.

“Who wants to be the first person in a group that historically excludes you anyway?” Melish said.

Delano Massey, a reporter at the Herald-Leader and panelist, said the timing of the cartoon’s publication in relation to national events, such as the Jena 6, made the image more powerful.

“To move forward, some of the people I spoke with have said you have to have ongoing dialogue not just when something happens, but it has to be continued,” Massey said.

Fletcher said he is regretful that the cartoon didn’t make its point and offended an unintended audience.

“But I won’t apologize for the point that I feel like I was trying to make, which is that there is institutional racism on this campus,” he said.

Keith Smiley, editor in chief of the Kernel, was in the audience and said the paper made an error in its editing process by not discussing the intended meaning of the cartoon and the potential consequences of running it.

“The editing process that we go through every day — deciding out of all this content and information that we have that could go into the paper, what actually goes into print — is what really fell apart in publishing the cartoon,” Smiley said.

Rodrigo Mejia, a journalism sophomore, said the UK community should use the Kernel cartoon as a starting point for discussion and change.

“We need to take the first step to try to change something in the black community at UK so that this is a more enjoyable institution for us,” Mejia said.

Melynda Price, organizer of the forum and an assistant professor in the College of Law, said the college’s diversity committee has started discussing how similar dialogues could be held to make a positive impact.