An Open Letter to The Cavalier Daily

Dear Cav Daily,

The University of Virginia is an academic institution, and one in love with Tradition at that. In 1973, four Cavalier Daily writers said “fuck this” and founded a publication with a mission rooted in another kind of tradition: publish witty, biting social commentary that says no to the status quo. Publish satire.

Satire is a radical comedic tradition wherein the abuses of the overculture are deconstructed and critiqued. This comprehensive deconstruction is what makes stuff like The Colbert Show (sweet angel, rest in peace) and The Onion work where other attempts at satire fall flat—they make clear the issues that plague society-at-large.

This means that good satire at UVa should speak to the not-so-hidden truths that undercut student life: Greek culture’s gaping wound at UVa’s nucleus; the entitlement complex shared by a majority-white student body; the fetishistic hero-worship of Our Mr. Jefferson; the awkward, elephantine disparity between rich students and poor students; the racism, pervasive and terrifying, woven tightly into this school’s very fabric.

It seems so simple, really, a slice of Culture 101 you’d expect UVa students to have studied long before they entered the university: the “bad guys” look stupid because they are; readers and viewers laugh, duh, but they also question why those “bad guys” are in power in the first place!

As the student publication with the “richest history” and the most influence on grounds, the Cav Daily shouldn’t need this lesson, but when its annual “satirical issue” frames damaging racial stereotypes as funny and trivializes blatantly the marginalized groups satire is supposed to work for, not against, it makes two things clear: 1) UVa works for the overculture, “The Man,” the lived-in, overarching structure that tells you it’s okay to reframe acts of erasure and violence as comedy and call it a day, and 2) UVa is home to a cadre of students who are dumb as hell and didn’t do their homework for Intro to Comedy and Society: or, How to Be a Decent Human Being.

The Cavalier Daily and the Declaration should be sisters in arms, intelligent and fully aware that by attending a university like this we’re effectively doing our part to contribute to the success of a big corporation rooted in oppressive tradition and practice. As student writers with integrity, we should use our power (remember that one thing that dead white guy said about the pen being mightier than the sword?), to deconstruct systems of abuse from the inside-out, and we shouldn’t issue squeaky apologies that dance around the subject (“but that wasn’t our intention!”) when we fumble, because we do and will.

This isn’t, however, about inter-publication rivalry, nor is it about the virtues of so-called satire versus hard-core reporting. This is about Martese Johnson, publically brutalized in front of the corner’s most popular watering hole; this is about the hundreds of black students who suffer marginalization and erasure at the knotted, ancient hands of Mr. Jefferson’s School; this is about the Native American Student Union, which hosted a rich and vibrant powwow on grounds last week that the Cavalier Daily simply opted not to cover. Must we go on? Must we?

We go to a school wherein Greek houses hang confederate flags at their windows. Law-enforcement agents commandeer black bodies on the corner. A statue of a bigot and slave-owner stands at the school’s apex. A statue of Robert E. Lee glowers triumphantly at the center of Charlottesville’s downtown mall. A noose was found hanging on Duke university’s campus, one estimable as ours. The University of Virginia’s largest newspaper publishes articles that satirize, stereotype, and minimalize marginalized human bodies. It’s not fucking funny.


There are 9 comments

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  1. Desmond M

    College kids screw up and say stupid things – the pretty liberal (all female) MB at the Cav Daily did something they realize was wrong and didn’t examine the consequences – I don’t know what them being ignorant has to do with proving UVa works for “the overculture;” I really doubt their intentions were in the wrong place or that they accept racist violence any more then you all do. I’m also really unclear how they bear responsibility for a Lee statue on the downtown mall (much less a noose in a different state?) or a Jefferson statute in front of the rotunda (should the University he founded disown his likeness?). Do you really think the paper hasn’t been hard enough on Greek life (which I agree is toxic)? This is just gratuitous piling on human beings who meant well and ended up being awfully hurtful and insensitive. “Must we go on? Must we?” Spare me the self-righteousness and condescension, and stay edgy.

  2. Vivek Jain

    Why did the Cavalier Daily hide the identity of the writer who composed the piece? Why reward cowardice? Are the anonymous writers getting practice for long careers peddling propaganda and promoting cultural violence from the imperial centers, following the example of Frank Wisner (class of 1931 and 1934)?

    Also, it’s easy for the Cav Daily to attempt to pacify criticism by admitting the pieces were poorly thought out, and that they were intended to be harmless, with April Fools’ in mind. But what’s the excuse for the poor journalism on all the days the CD goes to print that aren’t the first of April?

  3. Laila

    “The pen is mightier than a sword” was not a dead white guy, look it up. It was an Arab loved by many. Amd still loved.

  4. Mies Rohe

    Wrote a number of comments questioning accountability and responsibility at the Cavalier Daily, all immediately deleted, censored by the Cavalier Daily itself. None of them even came close to violating the guidelines for comments. There is something worse at work here and it deserves investigation. It violates the CD’s stated principles and the university’s honor code.

  5. whitepeople

    The phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword” was coined by Lord Edward Bulwer Lytton. He is actually a dead white guy.

  6. uva 15

    OK wow dec staff, this letter could not be more self-righteous if it tried. Just because nobody at UVA reads the Dec (and a little more than 10% of the student body is aware it even exists)… that doesn’t mean you guys produce quality or even slightly culturally aware work.

    In fact, this is the first time I even visited your website OR was aware that your publication’s purpose is satire.

    I’m no huge fan of the CD, but their staff works harder and more efficiently (especially in the clusterfuck of a year we’ve had) to accurately, objectively report difficult news stories than you have… since before 1973.
    Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Glad you were given this opportune moment to try to prove your relevance and give the Cavalier Daily a “Culture 101” lesson.


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