Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

Racial tensions across the UC system over the past few weeks have been no laughing matter.

And now editors of The Fish Rap Live! (FRL!), a student-run publication focused on humor and alternative news, are planning to restructure their organization in response to the current controversy over racially charged content published in past and recent issues.

By interviewing new applicants, implementing different editing processes, and creating new governing documents, Erin Schmalfeld, the current editor-in-chief of FRL!, said the organization can better monitor the content it publishes.

“Now we can look at things from multiple perspectives so we can better understand the impact our content has, and make sure it’s polished, acceptable, and that it’s not going to hurt anybody,” said Schmalfeld, a fourth-year creative writing major from Stevenson.

After The Koala — a student publication at UC San Diego that focuses primarily on race humor — came under scrutiny for making racial slurs toward students protesting a “Compton Cookout”-themed party, students of color at UC Santa Cruz began speaking out against some of FRL!’s content.

Fourth-year Erica Terrell, an intern for UCSC’s African-American Resource Center and former chair of the African Black Student Alliance (ABSA), took offense to a recent FRL! centerfold that portrayed stereotypes of each college on campus.

“I hope they understand that the images that were being published in the paper were offensive. The material was racist, sexist and prejudiced,” Terrell said. “They can’t come out with these things and try to be a legit paper. … If they are trying to make these changes, I celebrate them.”

FRL! currently has a staff of about 70, a number that has grown markedly since past quarters. Out of the 70 people on staff, about 50 receive course credit through the community studies department.

Funded mostly by staff donations and advertisement sales, the organization does not directly benefit from measure funds, or funds students pay to support student services and organizations. However, all student print media organizations receive faculty advising, as well as access to UCSC’s Press Center — both of which are financed by measure funds.

While in the past there have been no requirements to become a staff member, FRL!’s editors now plan to hold interviews before accepting applicants.

Schmalfeld said this new application process is necessary for producing appropriate content.

“We are changing the way people are invited onto staff,” Schmalfeld said. “We are doing interviews now just so we know their personalities, their working style, and their sense of humor.”

In addition to holding interviews, FRL! editors plan to edit content more extensively.

“We are going to have a lot more people reading every article that comes in and it’s going to be considered a lot more seriously and on a deeper level,” Schmalfeld said. “We are going to have editors look at each article more closely and see what the social implications are.”

Fourth-year Sabrina Sierra, one the few students of color on FRL!’s staff, wrote an open letter to other members that addressed her concerns about the publication.

“The people who are protesting FRL! are understandably angry. FRL! has been insensitive,” Sierra said. “I wanted to write a letter to mediate the situation, in a way … because I felt like I was in a position where I could empathize with both sides.”

Sierra went on to say that the racial makeup of FRL!’s staff is similar to that of UCSC, where Caucasian students account for most of the campus population.

“I think that is why Fish Rap has gotten away with making racist jokes for so long,” Sierra said.

A 2008 campus profile, published on the university’s official website, reported that about 50 percent of UCSC undergraduates identified themselves as white.

In her letter, which will be featured in a special apology issue, Sierra wrote, “I want Fish Rap to keep pushing the envelope in print publications, but we have to ask ourselves, to what ends? I believe that adopting a more socially conscious approach and pushing ourselves to keep setting higher standards of work will only make the paper more funny and intelligent, and better received by the community.”

Schmalfeld expressed similar sentiments regarding improvement within the organization.

“We want a dialogue and we want to have a conversation about these issues and about what is right and wrong. We want to become a better paper,” she said. “We want to keep going. … We want an opportunity to change.”


A special FRL! Apology Issue will hit newsstands on Thursday, March 11.