Members of the Rice Green Knights basketball team are state champions once again, after knocking off the previously undefeated St. Johnsbury Academy Hilltoppers Thursday night. But slogans printed before the game are stirring more conversation than the stellar play on the court.
"I'm glad that the local newspaper is supporting the local team and that's great, but they just need to be more mindful in terms of how they portray the visualization of culture," said Paul Cheung of the Asian American Journalists Association.
The Caledonian Record printed an advertisement to support its local team. It read "GO 'TOPPERS" with "FRY RICE" below it. Cheung says the Chinese calligraphy-style lettering injects race issues into a high school game.
"The headline could be just as cute in a different font," Cheung said.
"I wouldn't call it a full-blown racist ad, but I think that it probably shouldn't have run," said David Mindich, a professor of media at St. Michael's College in Colchester.
Mindich calls the ad insensitive, but he says outcry has been disproportionate to the alleged wrongdoing.
"I think the bigger issue is the way the publisher responded on Facebook," Mindich said.
The newspaper's Facebook page received hundreds of comments after the ad's printing. When some readers questioned the slogan, paper staff responded. In one instance, the reply simply stated "lighten up."
"I don't think they owe an apology, but I think they owe a more thoughtful explanation," Mindich said.
Caledonian Record staff declined our request for an interview, but say a weekend editorial will cover the paper's position.
St. Johnsbury Academy Headmaster Tom Lovett issued this statement:
"We appreciate the Caledonian-Record's support of our teams, and we know for a fact that its intention was to support our boys in their championship run by using a clever play on the name of our opponent.
"In consulting with our students from Asian countries, we have not found any who were offended, and our resident life staff is not aware of any negative impacts this banner has caused. However, we understand that the use of a culturally identifiable font is deemed by some to be culturally insensitive. Once we realized that some could be offended, we did our best to remove the signs from our cheering section.
"Overall, our students often see such things as a way to celebrate their culture, not demean it, and in this case, we chose to follow our students' lead and look at the Caledonian's intent, not taking offense where none was intended."
Father Bernard Bourgeois, the principal of Rice, says the drama needs to be put aside. He called the ad insensitive, but says the focus should be on the accomplishments of the students.
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