Stater editors meet with civil rights commission, BUS Wednesday

Bryan Wroten

Editor’s note: Despite the fact that it may offend some people, we are permitting the use of a racial slur in this story. We feel the use of the word is central to the controversy at hand.

Editors of the Daily Kent Stater met with the chairman of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and members of Black United Students Wednesday.

The purpose of the meetings was to mediate the situation created by a column in Monday’s paper written by assistant forum editor Aman Ali. In his column, Ali focused on the use of the word “nigga.”

A number of students who read the column were offended by the use of the word as well as the humorous tone. One of the students was the son of Rev. Aaron Wheeler, the chairman of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

“He saw the column and was upset by it,” Wheeler said. “He called me and said, ‘Dad, students are outraged.'”

After looking into the issue, he said he noticed Ali’s last name and contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR contacted Ali about the issue while Wheeler’s staff talked to the Kent State administration. The administration set up meetings with Wheeler and Stater editors.

Before Wheeler met with the administration, he met with Ali, Stater editors Michelle Park and Ryan Loew, Stater adviser Carl Schierhorn, president of BUS Matthew Cox, and assistant professor of Pan-African Studies Mwatabu Okantah.

“I wanted to get a feel, level the playing field,” Wheeler said about meeting with everyone. “I wanted to know who was coming to the table.”

It was during these meetings the offended students and Stater editors had a chance speak and be heard.

“The people who were there wanted an explanation for the column Aman Ali wrote,” Cox said. “(Ali said) it was supposed to be humorous and thought-provoking. Other students and I saw it as ignorant.”

Ali said the day before the column ran, Stater Forum editor Steve Schirra informed him they had overestimated the number of letters to the editor for the paper. He would have to write something to fill in the space leftover, he said. After just coming from discussing with friends the issue of the using the word, Ali took his friends’ suggestion to focus his column on that.

“I have a tendency to tackle delicate issues and walk the line,” Ali said about his writing. “I didn’t know it would cause this much of a problem.”

After showing his column to his editor, Schirra suggested he show it to Park, Stater editor-in-chief, Ali said.

“I had qualms with it,” Park said. “I talked to other individuals and basically, it seemed they were saying it wouldn’t make the impact that it did.”

After seeing her hesitation to run the piece, Ali showed it to Stater news editor Ryan Loew. Loew, not being on the Forum staff, had no say in the issue. However, after reading over the column with Ali, he said he didn’t think the column would cause so many problems.

“I had the benefit of being next to Aman when I read it,” Loew said. “He was able to explain what he was going for when he wrote it.”

Following the controversy, Loew said running the column was “regrettable.”

During the meetings Wednesday, the involved parties discussed the issues and possible solutions.

“To me, the Stater and the university do not reflect diversity as much as they say,” Cox said. “In the Stater, how many forum writers are non-white?”

He said while he knows the Stater only hires those who apply, the newspaper should try to reach out more to minorities to make them want to apply.

Park and Ali apologized during the last meeting and then did again in yesterday’s edition of the Stater in the Forum section.

“I knew I had to get an apology out there,” Ali said. “I wasn’t intending on offending people. I knew some would be offended but I wasn’t expecting this.”

Though sorry for offending readers, he said he felt as if every word he wrote was being used against him, comparing it to the McCarthy era during the Red Scare.

“If I tried to defend myself at all, it was like I was trying to justify it,” he said.

Along with the apologies, the Stater editors are still discussing diversity training with Wheeler and his staff. Before each semester starts, the Stater offers workshops and training for new and returning staff members the week before school starts. It is during this time the diversity training would occur, Loew said.

The executive board of BUS called for Ali’s firing during the last meeting. Loew, who will be the editor in chief of the Stater next semester, said Ali’s future at the Stater is still in question. He said there is a lot to be considered in making this decision.

“I’ve already been thinking extensively about it,” he said. “I will likely talk to my managing editor and others, but, at the end of the day, it is my call.”

The Enrollment Management and Student Affairs and the Diversity and Academic Initiative departments ran an advertisement in today’s paper. Vice Provost of Diversity Steve Michael said the ad has a statement about how the university is a place of opportunity for learning and reflection.

“We make mistakes, apologize for them, learn from them and, as individuals, we grow,” he said. “I commend everyone who has taken it upon themselves to right any wrong perceived.”

Stater editors Michelle Park and Ryan Loew and adviser Carl Schierhorn had no part in the writing or editing of this article.

Contact religion and minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].