The beginning of the new school year is chock full of fun, interesting events. It's the time when upperclassmen are most motivated to "do something different this year" and freshman are most desperate to get involved.
One big event every year is the Welcome Black BBQ that the Legion of Black Collegians puts on. The event typically garners hundreds of students who come to mingle and eat some free food. Another special and particularly fun aspect of the Welcome Black BBQ, though, is the dancing.
I've covered a few LBC and Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center events in the past but have never attended the barbecue. Many of the multicultural fraternities and sororities were in attendance and a few even hopped in the center of the event, dancing and stepping to the music the DJ played.
I photographed the event for The Maneater, but we ended up not running the photograph. Last year, we covered the barbecue and Nick Schnelle took a really wonderful photo from the event. However, we received negative feedback when we used the photograph as a file photo in a story about the Black Culture Center.
The story the file photo was run in was about the center being added to the tours the university gives to prospective students. We had a photo requested for the story, but the wrong date was given for the event we wanted to cover, which we did not realize until the day of production. Our options were these: to run a file photo of something that had taken place in the BCC in the past or to use a photograph of the sign outside. Because I had been so adamant about not using boring pictures of signage, I decided to go with a file photo.
Upon perusing the file photo, I found the one Schnelle had taken. At this time, we had other, more recent file photos, but I wanted to show the extent to which the center was used, so I chose his photo, which had a lot of people in it.
The photo received some complaints because it was an old photo and because we had not bothered to go out and take another picture. Many people were also upset by the fact that the picture had African Americans dancing in it, which many said perpetuated stereotypes.
Upon covering this year's barbecue, I tried to just cover the event just as I would any other event. So, I photographed what I thought was the most visually appealing — the dancing. I came away with some fun pictures (with a little too much sun flare, I might add) that I thought summed up the hugeness of the event pretty well. There wasn't much else going on at the barbecue other than dancing and mingling, and I thought the pictures of the dancing would be better.
Editor-in-Chief Zach Toombs made an executive decision not to run the picture we chose. He thought we might receive more negative feedback because there was dancing in the photographs.
I would like to hear people's feedback about the situation. I think the discussion from the public was a definite learning experience — I was able to see how stereotyping happens and how the media perpetuates it. I also realize The Maneater was lackluster in its reporting about social justice and multicultural groups on campus last year. The complains received from the public have really helped the editors at the paper step up our game. We are taking part in diversity training this year and also trying to up our coverage of minority organizations and social justice groups.
I'm not sure how I feel about the withholding of the picture for print this year, however. On one hand, I like the photographs and think they tell an accurate account of what happened at the event. On the other hand, do the photographs perpetuate stereotypes? Are they offensive?
I'd like to see what you think. Please reply with any thoughts you may have. I would really like to discuss this further.
All photographs copyright © Katie Currid and may not be used or reproduced without permission.