Ten students recently protested one of the Harvard Lampoon’s comp meetings, condemning the undergraduate humor magazine for its insensitive content, and what they claim is a hostile and exclusive institutional culture.
As a Board, we applaud the protesters for standing up to the Lampoon. We condemn the magazine’s publication of offensive and culturally insensitive content and sympathize with the protesters’ claims that the organization has a hostile internal culture. We hope the Lampoon views the protests as impetus to work harder to build a better culture and better institutional pathways to screen their content before publication.
Last May, the Lampoon published an inappropriate, sexualized image of Holocaust victim Anne Frank, which Director of Harvard Hillel Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg compared to the “obscenity of the Nazis.” This abhorrent incident was a striking display of hypersexualization and anti-Semitism, but must be understood as only one of many instances in which the Lampoon’s actions have peddled in such morally reprehensible sentiments as humor. The magazine has — in the past — made sexist jokes, from comparing women to dogs to insensitive jokes about University President Lawrence S. Bacow’s wife. And its insensitive content extends beyond the Anne Frank image as well, including an inappropriate joke about ISIS and minorities in final clubs. As if this smorgasbord of poor taste were not harmful enough, the Lampoon has also put out content trivializing a number of delicate issues such as suicide and fat-shaming.
The editors of the Lampoon said in a statement that their publishing process “lacks sufficient editorial oversight.” We believe this lack of oversight can lead to an inability to discern what kinds of humor are in poor taste.
We sympathize with the protesters and believe the Lampoon must take steps to address their concerns. And although the Lampoon has tried to take steps toward increasing diversity and accessibility — through steps such as newly instated positions to their Accessibility Council and Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training for new members — we believe these efforts are insufficient. The Lampoon should, in addition to OSAPR training for its members, require implicit bias training and should be more explicit about the ways their comp and internal culture have improved to avoid this in the future.
In seeking change at the Lampoon, we believe the student body has a huge amount of power. We call on students who are considering comping the Lampoon to consider the culture that has enabled the systemic production and amplification of offensive and culturally insensitive content. In so doing, we hope they either choose not to comp the Lampoon, or, in comping it, to demand change.
Change is an imperative not just for members of the Lampoon but for Harvard more broadly. As an organization with a great deal of power, not only socially on our campus, but also reputationally across the nation, the Lampoon has a responsibility to consider the ethics of all its actions. That responsibility falls especially heavily on the public face of its work — its published content.
We believe that good humor is an ethical act that can make us uncomfortable, ask us to reconsider our orthodoxies, and make light of struggles we experience in our lives, big and small. This kind of penetrating, sharp, intellectually honest humor is absolutely critical for a healthy Harvard. We hope the Lampoon agrees it’s time for a change.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.