September 18, 2015

Cornell Alumni Magazine Issues Apology for Controversial Cover

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Editors at the Cornell Alumni Magazine have issued an apology following a controversial editorial decision to publish a graphic — which some have suggested is latently racist — on the cover of its most recent issue.


The magazine cover — which features on one side an old, black-and-white photograph of four Caucasian students and on the other side a colored photograph of four Asian students — is captioned “Collegetown is changing fast. Is that a good thing?” The cover story, however, in no way suggests anything about the topic of race or diversity at Cornell.

Jenny Barnett, editor and publisher of the Cornell Alumni Magazine, said the magazine regrets “inadvertently [leaving] the image open to interpretations that we never intended.”

“The cover story for our Septem­ber / October issue looked at the changes in Collegetown buildings and student haunts over the years — those that have survived and those that have closed down — and the construction boom that is currently transforming the neighborhood,” Barnett said.

She continued by describing the cover, which showed images of the 400 block of College Avenue, where Collegetown Bagels and Rulloff’s is currently located.

“To illustrate the article we showed images of the same street taken decades apart,” Barnett said. “The cover text referred to the conversation around this construction. However, we realize, upon reflection, that because we were so close to the story and its subject matter, we didn’t make it clear on the cover that the changes we were discussing were about buildings and businesses.”

Joel Malina, vice president for university relations, said in a statement that while he did not think the offense was intentional, he was disappointed by the editorial decision.

“While we have no reason to believe the design of the September / October edition was intentionally offensive, we are dismayed by the lack of sensitivity displayed in the selection of the cover image and feature headline,” Malina said.

Sophie Sidhu, associate dean and director Asian and Asian American Center, also expressed disappointment with the cover and its latent disparage towards the Asian community.

“I am quite disturbed by the choice of contrasting images and text on the recent cover of Cornell Alumni Magazine,” she said. “While I believe that this was a poor editorial choice and not intentionally racist or malicious, it inadvertently sends a hurtful message that is neither  accepted nor supported by Cornell.”

Jeff Stein ’13, who wrote the cover story for the magazine, said he was not involved in the decisions behind the graphic that was attached to his article.

“I had no knowledge of or role in the cover chosen by the Cornell Alumni Magazine for my story on the development in Collegetown,” said Stein, who is a former managing editor of The Sun and the current editor of The Ithaca Voice.

“It’s not the cover I would have chosen,” he added.

Barnett said she regrets the misunderstanding and that the editors have rewritten the cover text to more accurately reflect the story content.

The new text on the cover now reads, “Amid a building boom, which old haunts remain?”

“We sincerely apologize to any members of the Cornell community who were offended by the cover,” Barnett said. “We will make sure to be more careful and sensitive to such issues going forward. We have rewritten the cover text to more closely reflect the story content, and will be replacing it on all digital media.”