Students criticize cartoon published at University of Illinois

Controversy surrounded the Champaign-Urbana campus last week when the Daily Illini, a university-affiliated newspaper, published a political cartoon aimed at the undocumented immigrant population.

The image depicted a trick-or-treater climbing over a fence with the caption “I’m going as an illegal immigrant!”

Students quickly fired back with angry commentary across social media outlets, particularly from the Latino/a student population who has frequently voiced their concerns with the micro-aggressive atmosphere that the university fosters.

It was La Carta, an independent student-run publication, that broke the news about the cartoon in a Facebook posting that went viral. On Oct. 27 La Carta’s Facebook page showed the political cartoon with a response, stating, “It’s the year 2015 and racist, desensitized images such as this one are still being published. Shame on you Daily Illini.”

Within hours hundreds  students began sharing the image, many voicing outrage and disgust at the Daily Illini’s disregard of the struggles of the undocumented. Other students donned it acceptable under free speech regulations. La Carta originated in Oct., 1979 and released its last issue in November of 2007 after the University of Illinois at Champaign shut it down in an act of censorship.

There has recently been a push by a group of students at the university who are actively trying to bring La Carta back and create a stronger voice for the Latino/a community. 

Following the publication of the cartoon it took the Daily Illini less than 24 hours to issue an apology. In an attempt to rectify its mistake the newspaper has since canceled its contract with Cagle Cartoons, the wire service from which it received comics. The editor who oversaw and approved the publication of the cartoon has also been suspended.

While the DI claimed that this mistake was made ” out of carelessness, not malice” many students don’t believe the excuse is sufficient.  Peter Raul Burgos, 22, a senior studying History and Latina/o Studies says that while he acknowledges the apology he believes the Daily Illini is simply covering its tracks. “The apology was only produced,”  he said, “because of the negative feedback and viral response from students of color and the various organizations on campus – not from a place of remorse and understanding.”

Thus far no official response from the University of Illinois has been issued, although the cultural centers on campus released a joint statement condemning the publication.

Cristina Lucio, 22, a junior, and one of the multiple students working on reviving La Carta, says the University has an obligation to speak out: “The Daily Illini is an independent newspaper publication, but a percentage of their publication is still funded by students and the university. The university cannot simply continue to ignore the ongoing racism on campus or in Champaign-Urbana. It has affected the Latinx community not only on campus, but as well as the large immigrant community of Champaign (second largest immigrant community in Illinois).

It seems that this situation is one of many racist incidents that have occurred in the past; from the “tacos and tequila” themed frat parties to the continued usage by some students of a now-banned native American mascot, Chief Illiniwek.

Still, student activists hope that by consistently calling out this type of behavior they can foster an environment that caters to the concerns of marginalized communities and encourage racial sensitivity.

Photo: Michelle Zacarias/PW


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.