Stickers Cause Controversy

The issue of race, though always a sensitive subject, is especially touchy at UVM, where racial diversity is lacking. The unfortunate consequence is that there is no real forum for large-scale discussion among the UVM population. When a situation arises like the recent sticker controversy, UVM is ill-equipped to provide a means for information and discourse. If you haven’t seen them littering doors, windows, and other structures both on campus and downtown, it is because many of them have been ripped down-by chagrined students-since their initial appearance around mid-January. The white stickers depict two identical caricatures resembling “moon men” or “humpty dumpty” “eggheads” side by side in blue and red ink. UVM does not permit postings “affixed” to any surface on campus, and penalizes such “vandalism” with fines ranging up to $5,000 and possible imprisonment of up to five years.The creator of the stickers posted them “to promote a creative and artistically stimulating community. I blanketed the entire campus with a piece and it wasn’t the individual stickers that were the piece it was all of the stickers put together. They were all part of a larger artistic work,” the anonymous artist explained.However, some people interpreted the images on these stickers as derogatory depictions of Asians. Jean Pak, a graduate student at UVM spearheading the protest against the stickers, explains that the “humpty dumpty”, egg-headed figure resembles images from the WWII era, when American culture was particularly hostile towards Asians. Pak elaborates that during this time and throughout the following decades, cultural images “in books, cartoons and films” portrayed Asian people as “nerdy, silly, wimpy, and a-sexual”. As evidence she points to the ‘Dr. Sun’ written on the figure’s suit case as a reference to Sun Yat-sen, a Chinese revolutionary and political leader who was a unifying figure in post-imperial China. Articulating the sentiment of the time, Pak says, “It is saying that Dr. Sun is a threat and we’ve portrayed him to be this egghead to make him less threatening to us.” The single stamp that created the dual image stickers was a “unique find while junk shopping”. The artist acknowledges now that “some of the historical analysis I’ve been exposed to leads me to believe that it is likely that this image was originally created with racially motivated intentions. However, before the idea was suggested, it was the furthest thing from my mind. I’ve apologized and will continue to do so.” This article may be the first time many of you are learning of this issue. That’s because virtually all of the discussion surrounding it has occurred through ALANA listserv, which is mostly subscribed to by minority students. Even the artist of the stickers only became aware of the controversy “second-hand through a friend on the listserv”. An opportunity for an ethical dialogue that should have involved everyone was largely missed because UVM declined to pursue it. As Pak stated 3/9/06, “UVM is not ready or prepared to respond due to a lack of awareness about the significance of caricatures. To be more specific, the administration still has not to this day made any statement because they don’t understand, that’s their excuse. They say because they don’t see why it’s offensive or racist they don’t want to make an ignorant statement.” She led the first real attempt to inform the larger community on Thursday, March 9th, through a meeting at the ALANA student center. Though attendance was sparse, it was a success. It was decided that “our number one priority is to remove all stickers immediately,” which will be overseen by UVM’s Physical Plant. Also, there will be the issuance of a statement from President Fogel or the Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Office by the end of the week before Spring Break.