Following a year of non-publication after staff backlash over jokes about sexual misconduct, the Yale Rumpus has returned — but not without controversy.
The annual Freshman Issue of the student-run tabloid magazine hit dining halls on Friday morning, greeting students with a cover that read, “ATTENTION FIRST-YEARS: YOU WILL BE REJECTED.” The issue — the first to come out since last September — was produced by a new editorial team. But despite the new staff — which includes five members who actively worked on the issue and about 12 total staffers, compared to previous staff sizes of 30 or 40, according to Rumpus co-editor-in-chief and a former photo staffer for the News Jakub Madej ’20 — the new tabloid issue has already sparked discontent among many Yalies upset with its new content. Students were particularly angered by jokes about the K2 overdoses on the New Haven Green and a “Rump’s Review” of Leo, which they believe made light of sexual misconduct once again.
“The Leo joke was not intended to make fun of rape victims in any way, shape or form,” current Rumpus Co-Editor-in-Chief Anushka Walia ’21 wrote in an email to the News. “It pointed out messed up practices of frats, and it put Leo down. Part of the point of satire is this kind of commentary anyways. I’m sorry if it offended anyone, but it wasn’t the intent.”
Last September, at least 12 staffers quit the publication in protest over several jokes about sexual assault that appeared in the Rumpus’ “Freshman Issue.” Those included a spot on the issue’s “Hookup Bingo” reading “Freshman’s First Blackout (Free)” and a line in the editor’s note making fun of a blacked out first year “let[ting] a senior on the baseball team raw [them] on that foul mattress in the Sig Nu basement.”
The objectionable content in last September’s issue had been reviewed only by members of the editorial team prior to publication, but not the remainder of Rumpus staffers. Following internal backlash, Rumpus leadership retracted the issue, removed all copies of it from dining halls throughout campus and issued an apology for the content.
According to Madej and Walia, this year’s publication — which the current board revived independent of the old editorial staff — was for the most part vetted by board members as well as several staffers prior to printing, unlike in previous years. Also unlike Rumpus leadership’s response to last September’s backlash, this year, Madej and Walia neither retracted the issue nor issued a public apology for the content.
Although Madej said the Rumpus has not established any written standards for the kinds of jokes it will publish, the editors review content on a case-by-case basis to decide if it is fit to print.
“There were some issues last year regarding controversial issues and mismanagement,” Madej said. “We noticed what happened last year, and we believe in the idea of Rumpus, no matter what they say. We do want to bring it back to life.”
Still, social media posts from Yalies this weekend argued that the publication’s “Rump’s Review” of Leo showed that Rumpus had not learned its lesson from last year’s backlash.
“Plenty of nights that I won’t ever and don’t want to remember have started (and ended) at Leo,” the review of Leo read. “Just walk up to the bar, mention to a brother that you came alone, and that first drink will knock you right out. They’re so accommodating, that if the first one gets you a little too drunk (as it always seems to lol) they’ll let you stay the night!”
Hours after the issue hit dining halls, the Instagram parody account @yaleactualweeklynews posted a picture of the review with the headline “Rumpus Learns From Mistakes; Only Publishes Subtle Rape Jokes.”
In a statement to the News, Leo leadership called “the Rumpus’s attempt to make humor out of sexual misconduct extremely misguided and disappointing.”
“We take the issue very seriously and work actively to make sure our friends and guests feel safe and have fun at our events,” the statement read.
During a Friday night interview with the News, Madej said the post from the @yaleactualweeklynews Instagram page was “nothing more” to him “than a kindergarten-level attempt to make jokes” and bring up problems from last year, adding that he did not see a connection between last year’s controversy and this year’s issue.
But Walia disagreed with Madej’s statement. In emails to the News following the interview, she stressed that she did not interpret the post as an attempt at humor, but rather as a way “to bring an important issue to light.” She explained that she did not expect the criticisms the post sparked, because she cares “very deeply about the very issues everyone else cares about” as both a woman and a feminist herself. Further, Walia underscored that the Rumpus’ intent is never to be offensive or malicious, and that she respects “people’s beliefs as well as their criticism.”
“I do care about the criticism received because I want everyone to read the Rumpus and have a good time and laugh at it,” Walia said. “I don’t want anyone to feel offended or hurt by something that someone writes in it. So as editor in chief, I do take concerns seriously and keep that in mind — I care a lot about our readers.”
Madej clarified in an email to the News on Sunday that he was not “sure of the intentions” of @yaleactualweeklynews, but “if they indeed wanted to be funny, it’d be a tremendously bad level of a joke.”
Former Rumpus staffer Leila Halley-Wright ’21 — who quit the publication in protest of last year’s jokes about sexual assault — said she was “surprised” to see that the Leo review had been “deemed appropriate” for the issue considering last year’s backlash and its thematic similarity to last year’s editor’s notes.
Mia Arias Tsang ’21, the editor in chief of Broad Recognition, said she was upset to find a screenshot of one of her posts advertising the feminist magazine featured in a collage on the front cover. She stressed that the cover upset her because of the publication’s past of making light of sexual misconduct issues, and she was disappointed to see several similar problems arise in the new issue.
“Satire, I think, is very different from rape jokes,” Tsang said. “I think there’s ways you can tackle these issues satirically, but it has to be done really well and really carefully, and you should probably have some people look at it multiple times that are outside of the sphere of your tabloid magazine if you’re trying to go for a satire angle. … I think the stuff they do satirizing Yale culture has always been pretty on the nose and good, but they’ve just veered so far into this other territory for some reason.”
The Yale Rumpus was founded in 1992.
Asha Prihar | firstname.lastname@example.org