A media group of Emory students sparked controversy last semester after releasing YouTube episodes with content that many found insensitive and inappropriate. In response, a newly-created committee hosted a forum for student discussion on the subject Monday.
The controversy stretches back to a particular episode of “The Dooley Show,” a satirical student-run show hosted by Emory TV (ETV), which was released in early December. In the episode, the anchor said that since a recent Supreme Court case “ended affirmative action,” its “loyal followers” should find students “who are only here because of affirmative action.” The anchor concluded, “Proven methods here at ‘The Dooley Show’ include lynching, tarring and feathering and cross burning.”
Many believe this incident is indicative of larger problems of insensitivity on campus and are working with administrators to implement solutions.
College senior and Student Government Association (SGA) President Ashish Gandhi said he officially suspended funding for “The Dooley Show” after Monday’s forum.
In a statement ETV released yesterday, they stated that they suspended the show and have revised their oversight process. ETV will be “appointing two executive members that will review and approve all scripts before they are produced and all episodes before they are released through one ETV-monitored YouTube channel” and other media outlets. They also apologized for the episodes.
Within a span of three days, the episode instigated an outcry of community opposition on Facebook and Twitter. College senior Stephanie Llanes created a Facebook group titled “Keep Emory Free From Racial/Sexual Harassment: Hold Dooley Show Accountable,” which now has more than 600 members and a growing thread of posts mobilizing the effort.
College senior Nabila Lovelace has created a petition on change.org that has now received 500 signatures.
“The Dooley Show” released an explanation on their Facebook page on Dec. 19 that the “inflammatory nature of the acts were included to accentuate the absurdity of a Supreme Court decision to strike down affirmative action.”
That post received more than 100 comments, the majority of which disagreed with the show’s explanation along with a handful that presented support for the show.
After community members emailed administrators about the issue, Campus Life released a statement on Dec. 20. Written by Dean of Student Life Ajay Nair, the statement noted that the use of satire comes with responsibility, and that the “use of such rhetoric around sensitive topics can be extremely damaging to students who too often are the victims of racial and gender stereotyping and prejudices.”
On that same day, “The Dooley Show” released a second, more apologetic Facebook post stating that the segment was written poorly and was not intended to offend students. It also mentioned that “[they] are students as well, learning from this and our mistake, and want to express how much we have learned and taken from this whole experience.”
Producers and anchors of the show would not comment further.
Mobilization and the Forum
After the incident, two groups rallied in response. Change @ Emory consists of about eight to 10 students meant to serve as advocates and liaisons between the administration and student organizations, according to College senior and member Kala Hurst.
Additionally, Campus Life created a committee consisting of five Campus Life officials, a faculty member and 14 students. Several students on this committee are also a part of the Change @ Emory group.
The Campus Life committee hosted the forum Monday, during which students responded to prompts — that members of the Emory community had submitted online beforehand — regarding hate speech, discrimination and broader, systemic issues at the University.
Llanes, a Campus Life committee member and Change @ Emory member, said that even though the forum served its purpose, she would have liked to have seen more feedback from administrators and a larger attendance from administrators outside of Campus Life at the forum.
“Students were well-spoken in that, it’s not just about ‘The Dooley Show’ … What’s preventing [other organizations] from doing the same thing … if they are just going to get a slap on the wrist?” Llanes said.
Regarding consequences, students have expressed mixed opinions on the consequences the University should impose on the show and its members.
Gandhi said he has been working to establish policies to ensure all student-run media programs are reviewed before publication. He was careful, though, to distinguish this process from that of censorship.
Gandhi said producers will be fully aware of the repercussions they could face if offensive material is published, and the final decision regarding publication would be left up to the producers, according to Gandhi. He also said that he hopes the policy will be finalized within the next two or three weeks.
SGA funds the Media Council, which funds ETV.
wwGandhi said ETV’s shows are not officially recognized by SGA, which he said may change. He also said ETV owns the equipment that student producers use.
Neither of the contested episodes were aired on the ETV channel and were released on their private YouTube page without approval from ETC executive members.
College freshman Reuben Lack, attended the forum and said a review process similar to Gandhi’s could have a “chilling effect” and would only lead to more issues, including the subjectivity of the reviewer and the standard for offensive material.
Gandhi stressed that consequences were not going to change an insensitive culture at Emory.
“[They] are going to make students say, ‘I don’t want to say that because I don’t want to be punished,’” he said. “How do we get to a state where students will say, ‘I don’t want to say that because that’s not what I believe’?”
Lack agrees that a broader discussion needs to be had but thinks that the “viewpoint based response” of punishment is a “rash decision” as it sets a poor precedent.
“It would be a disservice … if the way we fight for social justice was unjust,” Lack said. He said he objects to any punishment because the situation shifts from the culture to the repercussion.
Lack believes that the show was clearly making a point and if the community labels the show’s members racist, they prevent the conversation’s movement towards the bigger issues.
Alumnus (‘12) Sean Steffen saw the Facebook posts and was worried that this incident could get out of hand, ruining the lives of the show’s members.
Especially once local news outlets — like CBS Atlanta and Creative Loafing — picked up the story, he said he foresaw that “these writers would be demonized by the entire country as being racist, when in actuality; they were attempting to speak out against racism.”
On Facebook, he posted: “It’s important that our reaction to these comments do not diminish the rights of future Emory students … who DO wish to address the matters … tastefully.”
The show, in addition to the comments regarding race, also addressed sexual issues on campus in two episodes in a way that some found offensive. The episodes were quickly removed from YouTube.
In another segment in the relevant episode, the anchors discuss the recent “Bra Chain Campaign” and suggested that assault survivors could go to fraternity houses to “claim their bras and their dignity” and that “sexual assault counselors” would be available.
According to SAPA community response and College junior Malina Jones, an earlier episode featured a segment in which the reporters of the show interviewed girls on their “walk of shame” back from fraternity houses and asked questions that Jones found “troubling.”
The show took down these two episodes after College senior and Sexual Assault Peer Advocates president Anushka Kapoor approached the show’s producer and requested their removal, Kapoor said.
According to Kapoor, the show gave her an apology, which did not convince her that the participants understood why the material had to be removed. In the meeting, she described to the show’s members appropriate ways to satirically discuss sexual assault, Kapoor said.
Jones said she found it disappointing that the SAPA members were the only forum attendees that spoke about sexual issues and that the talking points presented at the forum shifted the focus towards racial oppression, excluding sexual violence.
“I think there was a significant issue with a lack of dialogue about the intersectionalities of all these issues,” SAPA Treasurer and College sophomore Elizabeth Neyman said, including those regarding gender, sexuality, religion and more.
For Lynn Nestor, college senior and campus life committee member, there are little things at Emory she has come to expect that demonstrate subversive racism.
“I’m not surprised that this [incident] happened at Emory,” Nestor said. “It’s very much what Emory has taught me to expect of [it], and it makes me sad that I have to say that.”
She said her and her friends have been waiting to build this mobilization effort since they have come to Emory.
Fifth-year graduate student in the sociology department and Campus Life committee member Liz Alexander said that this incident was consistent with the numerous race-related stories she hears in the class she teaches about racial attitudes.
“In some ways ‘The Dooley Show’ was just this thing that happened that allows us to have this broader conversation,” she said. “I think that this incident shows that students aren’t getting any education around race and difference at Emory that would prevent that from happening.”
Alexander said that this incident was especially prominent because there was a video that could be exposed.
Beyond this situation, she said the “pattern of racial taunting” at Emory doesn’t have a viral video.
Alexander cited last year’s controversy over Beta Theta Pi’s chants of “USA” in an intermural volleyball game against a predominately Asian-American team.
The Movement and Solutions
Many of the students believe this is one of the strongest movements with multiple communities that they have seen in their time on campus.
“If you [want to be] the beacon for diversity and inclusion … back it up,” Nestor said. “Create [students] that can actually [represent] what you tell people you do.”
Llanes said that she thinks there needs to be more “black spaces” on campus, especially with the removal of African-American Greek life. Also, she added, there is no one on campus who is a race relation’s expert. Llanes said that when this incident occurred, many students didn’t know where to report it.
Llanes also said she believes the campus should keep official documents of all the reported incidents similar to this. Llanes also encouraged Emory administrators to look at the faculty ratio in terms of race.
Assistant Dean for Campus Life and Director Matt Garrett is optimistic that change will occur, especially with Nair’s “strong background in community building.”
“We believe having a broad cross-section of students is the first step, and the second is having administrators there to support, encourage and make changes where we can,” Garrett said.
Steffen said that he believes most of the concerned students were not familiar with the intended style and “usual level of bad writing” because they did not watch the show and described the situation as “friendly fire.”
Jones said that the forum didn’t address the nuances of satire and talked only about the issue, not the context of the issue.
“It comes down to one core thing,” Jones said. “Satire is humorous criticism. And you have to ask the question ‘What are you criticizing?’ … Are you criticizing victims of sexual assault? … or are you criticizing a culture that allows for that to happen?”
There will be another forum on Feb. 4 at 4 p.m. in Harland Cinema where the Campus Life group will present its ideas and allow the audience to provide feedback.
— By Karishma Mehrotra