Community forum series

Daily Barometer Community forum series isms at Oregon State University

I was in Waldo Hall about a month ago when I came upon a larger version of this poster. I’m a fan of inverted black and white posters as they remind me of my graphic design days in Chicago.

The poster was advertising a community forum to discuss “isms in media.” I moved a little closer and read the list of “-isms.” Sexism, racism, ableism and classism. Okay, those are all forms of oppression. What? Why was alcoholism on this list? It just did not make sense to me as it did not fit with the rest of the items on the poster. And where oh where was heterosexism? A list of institutionalized oppressions and a disease. I do not understand why alcoholism was included…?

The Daily Barometer, Oregon State University’s student newspaper, has had yet another year where the paper prints something racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. and then attempts to do a better job (usually folks of color start appearing in the photographs on the front page during Winter term). It’s a cycle and the pattern has occurred since I moved to Corvallis in 2004 and became a member of the OSU community. Year after year a student editorial board and their lackluster faculty advisor bring about copious amounts of harm to the community, apologize and then attempt to rectify what happened in the fall. I can understand that student editorial board members come and go, but the faculty advisor remains…

I asked RP, the designer of the poster and member of the Barometer editorial board, about the lack of inclusion of heterosexism in the list and the bizarre fact that alcoholism was present on the list. The response was less than satisfying. In fact, it was really disappointing.


Yeah, alcoholism is awkward in the list. It is more from the perspective of marketing and consumption than it is of tried-and-true institutionalized oppressions. The marketing of alcohol and tobacco are classic case studies for design/media ethics courses.

I am the one who pushed for it. Discussions and portrayals of alcohol (ab)use in the Barometer frequently receive letters to the editor, accusing us of being insensitive to the issue.

As for heterosexism, we had it on list of possible topics but nobody in the Editorial Board voted for it.

What? So alcoholism is awkward and yet it remained? I’m not sure where to begin. If it didn’t fit, why was it added? And, I feel that labeling the institutionalized oppressions on the list as “tried and true” as a bit gross. It would seem to me that alcoholism should/could have been discussed in a separate forum series.

What does it say about the editorial board of the Barometer that heterosexism, an institutionalized oppression, was not voted for by any of the board members?

An article summarizing the community forum on alcoholism ran in the Barometer on March 4th. An attempt was made in the article to compare alcoholism to racism and sexism. I think my brain made popping noises as I read the article as my brain cells could not fathom how in the hell alcoholism, a disease, could be compared to racism and sexism. It’s just baffling…

Alcoholism is a disease, and an individual’s problem (affecting many others along the way), which is treatable. Institutionalized oppression based on identity (like racism and sexism) are disgusting behaviors of privileged people; the victims cannot easily find treatment.

While the forum did not attempt to equate the two, alcohol was chosen as a discussion topic for its prevalence within college life. Just as all -isms are interconnected, alcohol consumption can be connected to many -isms.

Borrowing Marilyn Frye’s “birdcage” analogy of oppression, alcohol issues may be seen as a bar of that cage.

Race, gender, ability, and class are parts of us upon which various forms of institutional oppression have been created to benefit some while harming people in marginalized groups.

Drinking alcoholic beverages is a choice. That choice may lead to alcoholism, but it is still based on a choice. Race, class, gender, and ability are not a choice.

If alcohol issues “may be seen as a bar” in Frye’s “‘birdcage’ analogy of oppression,” how exactly then does alcoholism fit on the list of oppressions on the poster. Oppressions are the cage and the bars hold the cage together. Why is alcoholism, a bar, given the same status/importance, as oppressions which make up the cage?

I feel that a friend of mine was correct when they stated that “a little bit of knowledge is dangerous” especially when legitimate philosophical theory is misused. The Daily Barometer is under intense scrutiny by a lot of members of the OSU community and I really feel that an opportunity for discussion regarding oppression has been overshadowed by the bizarre inclusion of alcoholism.

4 thoughts on “Community forum series”

  1. The Barometer amazes me on a regular basis, if only because they fail consistently and utterly to use any existing campus resources regarding the -isms. They reinvent the wheel every few years and then claim progress.

    I’m not saying it’s not progress for them (because it so is), just that it might be prudent for them to 1) look around and see what else is going on (and the fact that I’m suggesting a newspaper staff do this should be telling) and 2) stop expecting everyone else to be impressed when they figure out the most basic things.

  2. Ahh! Your critique of the birdcage language makes sense, now. The intent was not to connect them. It was an attempt to use it as a metaphor for a distinctly different situation. That metaphor clearly failed.

  3. Dennis, can you please expand upon your comment? I am continuing with the paper for several more terms and will pass on your critiques.

    What resources does the paper fail to use? When does the paper fail to use them?

    What is the paper not seeing around it?

    Thanks for the critiques.

  4. The biggest resource that comes to my mind is actually more of a skill — listening. The Barometer and its advisor consistently fail to listen to communities of color and their allies on the OSU campus.

    Dude, the metaphor fell very very flat. We will definitely do lunch during spring term.

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