Letter to the Editor


To the Editor:Since the letter by Jalene Betts and Anne Johnson about the troubling drawings in the winning Macalester Step Forward video was published in the Oct. 31 issue of The Mac Weekly, I have been trying to determine how it was that the video was shown under college sponsorship with racially insensitive imagery, in particular the image, as the authors of the letter describe it, of a “white Macalester student’s hand reaching out to save the brown, faceless figure sprawled in a heap in the dirt.”

I was a member of the campus selection committee and attended a meeting of the local judges in which there was a strong consensus that the video as submitted, although creative and visually accomplished, should not represent the college given its potential to offend, and that the maker of the video should be asked to remove the image mentioned above before it was shown. Although I had to leave the meeting early, and I am not certain what happened next, I have confirmed that the videomaker was not informed of the committee’s concerns before the initial screening. As a result, whatever the intention, the college became responsible for the screening of this video at the Step Forward event. It also allowed its student maker, who I believe intended to offend no one, to be the target of criticism that could have been avoided.

After the screening, the student was told of the committee’s concerns, and the video was revised before it was uploaded to the Web. I believe the student had no desire to circulate a video with offensive images and no problem with the revision. Academic and artistic freedom are not issues here. This was a contest for videos to be awarded cash prizes. It was clear from the outset that the winning videos could be used at will by the college as part of a fund-raising campaign. If this had been an assignment for a course, or a juried competition for best video art, it might well have been inappropriate to ask for alterations. This was not the case.

Macalester students, who are a pleasure to teach, receive an extraordinary education from dedicated and talented faculty. In our classes, students learn expansive notions of civic engagement that involve not charity but the hard work of organization for change, of listening to the voices of others and working by their side. I cannot imagine that showcasing offensive images fits an agenda many of us would care to share.

Clay Steinman
Humanities and Media and
Cultural Studies