If you’ve followed UC Santa Cruz student media at any time in the last 20 years, you probably never expected to read this editorial.
The Fish Rap Live!, UCSC’s humor-based alternative newspaper, has always been at odds with City on a Hill Press. None of us can remember an issue of FRL! printed during our time here that didn’t feature several CHP burns, some that we could appreciate and some that hit too close to home. Yet today we find ourselves in the interesting position of wanting to commend and applaud the publication, which has recently come under fire for printing racially charged content.
Make no mistake — we at CHP believe that Fish Rap should be held accountable for printing offensive material. It’s one thing to push the envelope, but another thing entirely to print statements and images that make many UCSC students feel hurt, targeted and marginalized. And it’s not just the race humor — past issues of Fish Rap have featured sexist, classist and homophobic content, which we must also condemn.
What we wish to applaud is the reaction of Fish Rap’s editorial staff following the barrage of criticism that greeted their most recent issue. The editorial team, headed by fourth-year creative writing major Erin Schmalfeld, has been working day and night for the last two weeks to make significant changes in the way FRL! is produced, edited and governed, with the goal of addressing past mistakes and preventing future offenses.
Starting next quarter, Fish Rap’s staff will shrink from 70-plus to about 30. Content will be “fiercely edited,” as Schmalfeld phrases it in a special apology issue that hits UCSC newsstands the same day as this paper you’re holding. Applicants to the staff will be interviewed rather than blanket-accepted, and all will attend a sensitivity seminar with Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin, who also happens to be both UCSC’s community studies field coordinator and Fish Rap’s faculty adviser.
Schmalfeld’s apology letter in this special issue strikes us as the most genuine tone we’ve heard from a Fish Rap staffer, ever. The paper’s editors have really listened to the students they’ve hurt, and are making every effort to change their publication for the better. Schmalfeld writes, “I believe that Fish Rap can improve and learn from our mistakes and not only avoid hurting people in the future, but make people laugh in a more awesome way.”
Now compare this with the reaction of The Koala, a UC San Diego student media outlet that calls itself a humor publication. Following the backlash that was caused by the now-infamous “Compton Cookout” party at that university, the Koala’s writers have only amped up their race humor, commenting on their UCSD TV show that reactions to the party were overblown and printing an entirely race-themed issue (you can see it, and marvel at their insensitivity yourself, at TheKoala.org).
If you ask us, the Koala’s actions are an example of exactly how not to respond to a situation like this. Schmalfeld, on the other hand, is doing everything right at this point. She and her team are meeting with offended students and administrators, encouraging feedback and criticism, making sweeping changes to their organization’s policies, and even printing a special issue to apologize to everyone who has been hurt by FRL! content. We would like to recognize and applaud these actions — basically, to give credit where credit is due.
We hope that by implementing these changes, the Fish Rap Live! will evolve and endure for decades to come, providing UCSC with a more elevated humor that all can appreciate — or at the least, not feel harmed by. Whether we read it to entertain ourselves between classes or use it to line our hamsters’ cages, we want to see the Fish Rap on campus newsstands long into the future.
In 2008, then-Mayor Emily Reilly approved a Fish Rapper’s petition to declare April 27 “Fish Rap Live! Day” in the city of Santa Cruz. And with the third annual holiday approaching next month, this year we feel there is a reason to celebrate.