The Koala has become notorious at three California universities for its jokes about rape, pedophilia, and "squinty eyed foreign exchange students," among other topics. And now individual students have become targets.
A humor publication with branches at UC San Diego, San Diego State University, and Cal State San Marcos, The Koala focuses on raunchy, often racist or sexist jokes. Its "Top Five Lists" include "Top Five Reasons I Wish I Had An Asian Mom" ("My mom's dog recipe is awful"), and "Top Five Responses To 'I Forgot To Take My Pill'" ("Hmmm, I forgot to take my 'Don't punch my girlfriend in the stomach medicine'"). A recent issue also included a party review that referenced "asian pussy" and concluded thus:
Had I not been laid because of my "Rarge amarican dik" I would have rated this party a 1 sake bomb for the one girl who told me she wanted to make sushi with my rarge cock. But I will give it a 2 out of 5 for the two squinty eyed foreign exchange students sleeping in my bed waiting for some all american continental breakfast as I write this party review.
The Koala has also taken aim at individuals — the paper made headlines in February when its UCSD arm published an "article" titled "Carli Thomas Is A Fat Whore." The piece included a picture of Thomas with a penis Photoshopped onto her face, and also claimed she had an STD. The University declined to take action, citing First Amendment concerns, but Thomas told 10News.com, "I don't think it's free speech when it's obscene. There's sexual harassment."
This fall, CSUSM student Jennifer Meneray decided to run for Homecoming King. So The Koala photoshopped a picture of her face onto the body of a naked woman removing another woman's pants, and wrote, "Thanks to the courageous and open-minded women who are running to be the Queen of King Jennifer Meneray, we can all look forward to a Royal Fisting. The question remains, which princess will become the lucky Queen?" Of the impact of The Koala on the female students she knows, Meneray told me,
We're on guard like 24 hours every time we're on campus, all the time. Even people in the dorms don't want to live there anymore, because some of [the Koala staff] live there. It scares me, it's scary. Because you don't know what they're thinking and if they believe some of the stuff they publish.
Meneray said she wasn't pursuing legal action, but did take her concerns to CSUSM's Dean of Students, who told her they were going to investigate the Koala for violating the student code of conduct, especially provisions banning "disorderly, lewd, indecent, or obscene behavior at a University related activity, or directed toward a member of the University community" and "conduct that threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person within or related to the University community, including physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, or sexual misconduct." The Dean apparently sent letters to Koala staff on Monday advising them of the investigation.
Students have also drafted a petition stating that "The Koala pretends to be humor, while it creates a hostile educational and work environment at CSUSM — unchallenged by the administration." The petition asks that the administration publicly affirm that the publication is "hateful and prejudicial," restrict its distribution to vendor boxes rather than hand-delivery, and "require that, in order to be distributed at CSUSM, each Koala issue must accurately identify the tabloid's owner, publisher, editors, writers, graphic artists, business address and contact information, as the campus newspaper does and as any legitimate publication does."
The Koala at CSUSM doesn't publish its editors full names on its masthead, and Koala staff in general appear to have a policy of refusing interviews unless provided beer. The editor responded thus to my request for comment:
Koala policy is to not grant interviews or offer comments to non-student media unless beer is provided up front, generally at a face-to-face meeting. Perhaps you can suggest a method by which you might provide cold beer to the staff? If so, then we'd be happy to answer questions, offer comments/context, and otherwise provide balance to your article. If you cannot arrange for beer to be provided to the staff, then we are at an impasse.
Due to a variety of practical and legal concerns, I could not give him any beer. When informed of this, the editor grew incensed:
Did you read where I wrote that this was policy? I'm not changing my mind and even if I did, it's policy. This policy protects the student staff from "reporters" who don't care about providing their audience with the complete story. It's quite a statement from you to suggest that your mostly female readers would prefer a one-sided hit piece to expecting the reporter to actually get the story. I wonder if that's an accurate reflection of them or of you. In any case, enjoy stooping to our level. At least we know we're a joke.
Lo Ramanujam, Editor-in-Chief of The Koala at UCSD, also would not comment without beer. Interestingly, this policy has essentially insured that all coverage of The Koala has been one-sided, since most news organizations won't pay for stories, and even those who will aren't willing to ship a bunch of beer to possibly underage students.
If I had been able to talk to any Koala editors, I would have asked them about the fact that The Koala, rather than being a purely student effort, is actually a business owned by non-students. One of them, UCSD alum George Liddle III, is apparently looking for work. He lists The Koala as a place of present employment on his resume, and explains that he "formed publishing company for monthly student-produced newspapers" as well as "conduct[ing] business operations" and "recruit[ing] staff." It's not clear how much influence he has over The Koala's day-to-day dick-photoshopping operations, but it is striking that, as the blog Call Out The Koala points out, Liddle is eager to use his involvement with the publication as a professional qualification. His listing also makes clear that The Koala is not merely a group of students having some mean-spirited fun, but a business making money by denigrating others. Universities responding to its activities should keep this in mind.
Act Against Hate At Cal State University San Marcos [Change.org]
Would You Hire The Man Who Owns The Koala? [Call Out The Koala]