Max Karson's satirical war against Asians begets Speak Out!, new social-justice campaign at CU

Today,, CU's student-news site, is debuting Speak Out!, which Amy Herdy, the publication's adviser, describes as "a new social-justice endeavor" that will address racism, sexism, homophobia and other campus ills.

The project will be celebrated at noon today during a launch event on the south terrace of the University Memorial Center featuring guests such as Representative Jared Polis. And its inspiration? Herdy confirms that it sprang from a controversy involving former staffer and fulltime provocateur Max Karson. "The thing we learned from that is, there are communities on campus who really feel disenfranchised and not safe," she notes. "And we had no idea of the magnitude of that reality."

And to think -- it all started back in 2008, when Karson declared war against Asians...

Of course, Karson had made headlines before then. In 2006, for instance, he explored "the myth of the female orgasm" in The Yeti, a self-published venture, in a way that some female students felt encouraged rape. And there was also his arrest following the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, after he reportedly declared in a class that he could understand why someone might kill 32 people given how angry he was about things like fluorescent light bulbs and unpainted walls.

Still, his greatest hit was a 2008 essay for CU's Campus Press entitled "If It's War the Asians Want..."

The whole thing was a joke: Karson wrote that because Asians looked upon white students as "walnut-brained business majors and skiers," campus Caucasians should even the score during "a 100-round beer pong tournament" featuring, as a soundtrack, repeated plays of "It's a Small World." But a number of minority organizations at CU were extremely unamused, and their objections prompted a media frenzy, as well as a move to separate the Campus Press from the university as a whole. From this maelstrom, was born.

Although Karson has long since moved on, the current staff, including editor Danielle Alberti and Cameron Naish, who'll oversee Speak Out!, decided to create a forum for discussions of race, gender and a diverse range of topics.

"It's really a new kind of journalism," Herdy feels. "They're going to assign a reporter to each of these 'isms' as a beat -- and as far as we can tell, that's never been done before."

To promote the campaign, is working with TDA Advertising to produce bus ads and shirts with messages such as "I don't believe in segregation of color. Unless it pertains to my laundry." The idea is to use the bitterness and misunderstandings churned up by the Karson brouhaha to address the problems he attacked satirically.

Herdy's take: "As I've said to the staff over and over, awareness is great. Now what are you going to do about it?"