Newtown references prompts Chaffey College to pull student publication, add warning labels

April 3, 2013

RANCHO CUCAMONGA — A Chaffey College student literary magazine was pulled from the school bookstore, and returned to shelves with a warning sticker that linked the content with the Newtown, Conn., school shooting massacre

The Chaffey Review is produced by an English class at the community college’s Rancho Cucamonga campus and has an all-student editorial board.

The ninth issue, which was produced in the fall, had an "Innocence and Experience" theme, and as soon as submissions from students and community members started coming in, it was obvious that the new issue would be fairly sexy.

"With the theme, that’s the kind of content we got," Chaffey Review staff member Tina Noland said.

The students weren’t deterred by the content submitted, although their adviser, Professor Michelle Dowd, warned them the issue might get push back from some on campus.

"Michelle said ‘This is going to be a little controversial; are you sure you want to do this?’" Chaffey Review staffer Melissa Lewis said.

The new issue was released earlier this year and was also dropped off at the office of Vice President of Instruction Sherry Guerrero.

Trouble began almost immediately.

"It was on the bookshelf that day and the next day, it wasn’t," Lewis said.

The college’s spokeswoman isn’t sure what content crossed the line for officials.

"At some point, our administration felt that there were some inappropriate writings and photos," said Peggy Cartwright, the college’s director of marketing and public relations.

"The administrators and the legal group came up with some wording that could be put on the sticker placed on the outside of the book and put back on the shelves. "

The sticker seemed to link the content in the magazine to the December shooting in Connecticut in which 20 children and seven adults were killed.

"The Chaffey College Review contains material that is graphic and violent," the sticker reads in part. "While the college wishes to express its sincere support of and condolences to the victims and the families of recent school violence, it has a legal and ethical responsibility to uphold the First Amendment rights of its students. If you believe that this content would be upsetting to you, please do not read. "

Although the 239-page volume is not short on sexual content – including paintings of a woman in bondage gear, a nude man with a bear head and another painting that substitutes Popsicles for male genitals – there is little content relating to overt violence, leading to some head-scratching by the journal’s staffers.

A poem titled "Patchwork" discusses a woman being sewn up by doctors after her soul was ripped up by an ex-lover. The poem by Eleanora Schirano ends with the lines "He grabbed it to take with his/Right before he pulled the trigger/Bang Bang Bang. "

"I’m not sure if it was one particular person or one particular photo or article" that caused the problem, Cartwright said. "We’re trying to protect the college. "

Students objected to the sticker "" which could not be easily removed without tearing the cover "" and its implication.

Dowd worked with officials and a compromise was reached: The Chaffey Review was shrink-wrapped and a much simpler sticker was affixed that read "this volume contains content that may be unsuitable for some viewers. "

"We on the board felt that the sticker was appropriate," said Lee McDougal, vice president of the school’s governing board. "We’re hoping this is a one-time incident. "

The college’s handling of the matter dismayed at least one free speech advocate.

"Your right to speech can’t be conditioned on the reaction of the listener " and it seems like they lost sight of that here," said Robert L. Shibley, the senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "It makes speech hostage to the most sensitive person on campus. "

The staff is now working Chaffey Review’s tenth issue, which is built around a "War and Peace" theme. The staff is reaching out to the school’s veterans for contributions.

"We’re just trying to make the same quality of journal that we always make," Lewis said.

And if some of those veterans share frank remembrances of war and violence, the students say they won’t exclude content for those reasons.

"I think someone’s always going to be offended," Chaffey Review staffer Shakisaha Harvey said.

Perhaps especially so in the post-Newtown environment: "I think that people are a little bit more protective than we’ve been in the past," Cartwright said.