Community Members Take Action After Racist Cartoon was Published

February 13, 2018

By Mario A. Cortez

cartoon in the La Jolla High School newspaper that depicts several racist stereotypes has raised concerns from parents, students, and community leaders.

On Tuesday, Feb. 13, a group representing the Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI) filed a complaint with the San Diego Unified School District Board of Trustees and provided recommendations about dealing with diversity-related topics after the racist cartoon appeared in a school newspaper.

The action being undertaken by BLCI members comes after the student newspaper at La Jolla High School, on Jan. 23, published a cartoon featuring characters with greatly-exaggerated ethnic traits wearing sweatshirts bearing messages related to racial stereotypes.

The cartoon is said to be a parody of an advertisement by fashion retail chain H&M which featured a black boy wearing a sweatshirt with the message “coolest monkey in the jungle.”

During the public comments section of the Board’s regular meeting, BLCI administrators, parents, and students shared their concerns about the incident with District trustees, with some calling for the resignation of La Jolla High Principal Chuck Podhorsky.

“This is totally unacceptable,” said BLCI Director Jose Cruz during the meeting. “We have questions, we want answers, and we also want solutions to this.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” Cruz said in an interview with La Prensa San Diego. “I thought I was seeing something from the ‘50s; I was in shock seeing this in 2018.”

Cruz stated that the student who brought the cartoon to his attention did try to speak with school administrators before bringing the cartoon to the BLCI.

The following day, Wednesday, Feb. 7, Cruz sent Podhorsky an email demanding a plan about how to handle this situation, which, Cruz argues, creates an environment in which students who are coming from communities of color cannot learn comfortably.

“When they leave their community, many students feel uncomfortable,” Cruz highlighted. “We trust that our students go to schools where they are preparing to go to college without any problems.”

On Thursday, Feb 8, Podhorsky sent out an email to students and families, which was also signed by San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten and Area Superintendent Mitzi Merino.

The cartoon which was published by the LJHS school newspaper.

“La Jolla is a community that values the free speech of our students,” the email read. “However, with the right to free speech comes a responsibility. We have talked to those involved with the publication of this cartoon about this responsibility — and the need to take public ownership of their actions.”

The email does not identify those responsible for the cartoon or those responsible of approving content for publication. The student who brought the cartoon to Cruz’s attention has said that two teachers have to jointly approve content, which then has to be approved by the principal before going to print.

“If what the student has said is true, the principal approved the cartoon and did nothing about it for two weeks,” Cruz highlighted.

After Tuesday’s meeting, those representing BLCI and its students said that they are not going to just sit idly after the lack of action from school officials.

“We wanted to show force and show that our community is not going to be quiet and that our community is going to take this issue wherever we need to take it,” said BLCI Board Member Jesus Cisneros.

Cisneros also expressed that the group intends to submit public records requests to see how school staff has dealt with the issue.

During the meeting, Board President Chuck Beisser said that an investigation into this incident is underway.

As a result of this controversy, BLCI will work with students and offer counseling to help address any concerns they might have and will look to teach them about how to speak up about their rights and needs respectfully.

The Barrio Logan College Institute works with youth in underserved communities, and has five students enrolled at La Jolla High through its academic opportunity programs.

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