Purdue Student Paper’s “Sex Position” Cartoon Prompts Outrage, Apology

A cartoon published in last Friday’s Exponent, Purdue University’s student newspaper, has spurred criticisms and an online protest for its depiction of what some perceived as non-consensual sexual activity.  The paper’s editor in chief has apologized for the cartoon, part of a regular Exponent series, “Sex Position of the Week.”

In the controversial three-panel strip, a pair of men are shown furtively attempting to have sex with the same unsuspecting woman, switching spots in the middle with a high-five.  As a related guide explains, “The partner standing behind the other trades with a friend who has been hiding in the closet.  The receiving partner must not realize a change has been made.”

According to a New York Daily News report, the cartoon “drew outrage on the West Lafayette, Ind., campus, flooding the newspaper e-mail inbox with angry responses.  To many readers, the cartoon in question looked a lot less like boyish hijinks and a lot more like rape.”

As one criticism noted: “The Exponent is creating an unsafe environment for its female students, as well as depicting females as sexual objects, whose victimization is viewed as a source of entertainment.”  A separate Facebook group, started by a Purdue alum and sporting roughly 200 members, spells out its message in its title: “Tell Purdue Exponent Advocating Rape is NOT OKAY.”

Exponent editor in chief Zoe Hayes penned an extremely respectful, heartfelt apology for the cartoon’s printing:

First things first: We made a mistake in printing Friday’s sex position of the week, and I, the editorial board, and the Exponent are extremely sorry.  Our apologies extend to the entire campus, both men and women; to alumni, parents, and current and former faculty and staff; and to anyone who saw the graphic and was offended or triggered by what was depicted. We’ve heard from many of you and understand your concerns. . . . On Friday and over the weekend, we received a flood of e-mails and phone calls telling us that this sort of graphic is unacceptable. And as soon as we received the first one and looked at it again- really looked at it- we agreed. If someone engages in any sexual act with anyone without his or her explicit consent, it’s rape. The comic can easily be interpreted that way.

My take: Mistakes happen.  The criticisms are valid.  Hayes admirably owned up. The Exponent is an excellent, award-winning paper.  There was obviously no ill intent.  The lesson has been learned.

In a larger sense, to j-students everywhere, take note: Sexual content has more potential to explode in controversy than almost anything else within the student press.  The solution of course is not to avoid covering or satirizing sexual issues.  Just give related stories and art extra vetting.  And read my book on how college media over the past decade have handled sex in print, rightly and wrongly. :-)

4 Responses to “Purdue Student Paper’s “Sex Position” Cartoon Prompts Outrage, Apology”
  1. Gregory Gonzales says:

    As a student copy editor, I would not have let this slide. The potential for controversy was pretty obvious. Like you said, sexual content is likely to spark negative responses. However, saying the comic “advocates rape” definitely pushes the issue too far (it’s obviously intended for humor, NOT advice). Plus, I couldn’t help but to giggle a bit at the high-five.

    Thanks for posting.

  2. Louie Del Grande says:

    Is this a joke? Why would they apologize? Clearly they thought it was funny (and it is). Outrage that people get after something is said/drawn/printed is a very crappy reason to all of a sudden come to your senses.

    This is a lie. The paper’s staff issued that apology but they don’t mean it. Nor should they have to apologize. Too much political correctness just teaches people to self censor.

    Those who were offended had every right to complain but saying this advocate rape is total and utter fallacy. This isn’t a win for journalism or free speech. This is a win for special interest and a loss of freedom to joke about something. It’s sad they apologized.

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