130 years through eyes of the Vermont Cynic

The 130th anniversary of the Vermont Cynic is cause for a reflection on the paper’s history. 

The first issue of the Cynic was printed April 25, 1883. As soon as news on one event started to unfold, the writer dives into another topic, which in some cases is unrelated to the topic described by the article’s header.

The bylines of many writers resembled hieroglyphics. Instead of their full names, some writers chose to use a their initials, while others used pen names.

“A college glee club has been formed,” one line from an article read. The article then abruptly moved into news about the banding of UVM’s football team, made possible by donations from the summer campaign of 1883. 

No more than a paragraph separated the unrelated news. 

Though the football team made the cut for the Cynic’s first publication, University officials later cut the team close to 100 years later in 1974. 

Christopher Williams ’82 remembers attending a football game as a first-year in 1974. 

“There was a small turnout,” Williams said. “I also remember the bleachers being in rough shape. I don’t remember being surprised when the team got cut.” 

The battered bleachers could be attributed to the lack of funding, which accounted for its demise at the end of that season, Williams said.

 “The football team had a lot of homegrown talent, but they weren’t very good,” said Bill Wheeler ’60, former sports editor of the Cynic.

 On the other hand, he recalled a large turnout for games and remembered football season defining the autumns at UVM

Throughout history the Cynic documented the changing social and political beliefs of the nation through the eyes of the UVM community. 

One of the Wheeler’s memories from his college days is the arrival of the first group of African-American basketball players to UVM in the 1950s

The addition of these players to Vermont’s athletics at the time was a very big deal, Wheeler said.  

The Kake Walk was a UVM tradition that captured the racist nature of the time, Kim Hagen, former news and features writer, said.

 The Walk consisted of skits with titles including, “Nigger Heaven,” that involved students dancing like slaves. 

The event involved male students performing dance routines that imitated black minstrel shows that slaves performed for their masters, according to an article in the Cynic published Dec. 13, 2007.

During the event, the participants wore bright suits and black face paint.

After the second annual Kake Walk in 1894, a keg of beer leaked onto the University’s chapel floor. Faculty then briefly banned the Walk as a result, according to the article.

Three years later in 1897, the Kake Walk tradition was reinstated to raise money for UVM’s varsity football team, according to the article. 

In 1964 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) formally criticized UVM for its socially insensitive traditions, and the walk was then permanently banned in 1969, according to the article.  

When asked about UVM’s tradition, Hagen uttered only two words about the event: “Very racist.” Though the tradition was banned several years before she came to UVM in 1974. 

Hagen recalled having only two black students in her graduating class in 1979. 

In the last several decades, the Cynic has published many articles on the administration’s efforts to make UVM more racially diverse. 

The bulk of the attention arose in the early 2000s.

A front-page article from a Nov. 17, 2000 issue of the Cynic commented on what they said was a lack of diversity at UVM

The article focused on ways the University was attempting to reverse that trend. Anotherarticle was published to raise awareness of hate crimes in the Burlington area. 

Two weeks later, Dec. 1, 2000, an article entitled, “ALANA Students and Faculty Say a Silent Racism Permeates Day-to-Day UVM Life,” was published describing racism that African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native-American (ALANA) students faced regularly. 

At the time, ALANA students only accounted for 5 percent of UVM’s student population, according to the article.

The article, written by Zach Swartley and Devin Foxall, presented the views of students who felt that on a regular basis the UVM community perceived them as being inferior because of their ethnicity.

Another article in the issue described UVM’s plan to increase its diversity statistics as “hollow promises.” 

Hagen, reflected on her time at the Cynic fondly. 

The Cynic inspired her to become a journalist, she said. 

About one third of the staff who published the Summer Cynic, a summer edition of the Vermont Cynic, went on to pursue careers in journalism, she said.  

Hagen’s husband John Dillon, also a former editor at the Cynic, is now the news director at Vermont Public Radio.

Williams also attributed his inspiration to become a journalist to his days at the Cynic, as his first published article was in the paper.

Williams has now professionally done news coverage for more than 25 years, he said.  

Wheeler said the Cynic prepared him for a career full of deadlines, since he has been working in advertising for 64 years.

“I’ve been reading the Cynic for years,” Val Gump, wife of alumni and emeritus professor Dieter Gump M.D., said.

 The two claim to be avid UVM basketball fans and love to read about games in the Cynic along with all other news relating to the sport. 

The Cynic has archives of articles covering a wide variety of topics. Publications range from building renovations, terrorist attacks, scientific innovations, drugs, wars, horoscopes and more.

Specific articles include coverage of explorers reaching the North Pole, the New York Rangers playing at Gutterson Memorial Ice Rink and the ways in which gay rights have evolved over time. 

The Cynic has covered events that have shaped UVM since 1883 and it’s archives are available in the Special Collections section of the Bailey-Howe Library.