Recent Zamboni issue upsets members of Catholic community

Catholic Chaplain Lynn Cooper speaks during the National Coming Out Day Rally on the Lower Campus Center Patio on Oct 8, 2014. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily)

Content warning: This article mentions sexual assault.

The Zamboni, a student-run satirical magazine, published an issue on Nov. 29 titled, “No One Expects The Spanish Inquisissue” that contained several articles focusing on themes related to Catholicism. Members of the Catholic community at Tufts have expressed concern over the inclusion of these articles. 

Catholic Chaplain Lynn Cooper explained her concerns regarding the sensitivity of the material in a post in the Catholic Community at Tufts (CCT) Facebook page. 

“The recent issue of the Tufts Zamboni magazine has caused considerable upset in the Catholic Community at Tufts and among our friends,” she said. “The spirit of articles and cartoons in the issue are much at odds with the spirit of our campus and of the chaplaincy, which seek to honor each individual and religious and cultural tradition with dignity.”

Zamboni Editors-In-Chief Jess Silverman and Craig Drennan published a Dec. 5 letter to the editor in the Daily, explaining that the magazine had no intention of offending any members of the Tufts community. 

“We worked hard to quell any jokes that we thought went too far, as we do in every issue we publish, but we saw this issue as more benign than it was interpreted,” they wrote. “We stand by our publication and its contributors, but we also acknowledge that it may have crossed lines.”

Two Catholic students, sophomore Jamie Tebeau and junior Joseph Tramontozzi, said they found the content in the Zamboni offensive and disappointing, in a Dec. 4 letter to the editor and Dec. 6 op-ed, respectively.

Silverman, a junior, added that the magazine makes it a priority to only publish content that it has deemed appropriate after a series of meetings and thorough discussion and that the staff  makes it a point to identify and shut down offensive jokes and article pitches.

“We have a decent Catholic population in the magazine, not as a measure of tokenism or anything, but we thought we knew the audience we were playing to and no one raised any concerns with us,” Silverman said. “We have been very open about being able to raise concerns with us, so we felt confident publishing it and were surprised at the level of backlash.”

Tramontozzi, CCT treasurer, noted that many Catholic students have reached out to CCT with concerns about the scope of the jokes going beyond the “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” (1969–1974) skit on which Zamboni staff members have stated they were originally based.

“Basically the articles had the theme of Catholicism, and we learned from [The Zamboni] that they meant to base it off of a Monty Python skit involving the Spanish Inquisition that’s very popular, but it went beyond that into satirizing Catholicism in general through certain articles,” Tramontozzi said.  

Drennan, a senior, said that the cover of the magazine, which included a rosary, may also have been a source of controversy. He and Silverman noted that the cover design intended to grab people’s attention and to hint at the topic of the issue without being offensive, but acknowledged that this was unsuccessful.

“I don’t think we realized the extent to which that is taken as something sacred being defiled,” Silverman added.

Tramontozzi noted that some students were impacted by the rosary depiction on the cover and allusions to Catholic symbolism throughout the magazine. Additionally, Tramontozzi said several articles that satirically invoked church doctrine, Catholic history, sacramental wine and sexual assault were inappropriate and problematic.

Silverman said these articles are legitimate, given well-publicized scandals surrounding the Catholic Church. 

“I think especially in a climate where ‘Spotlight’ has come out, and other pieces of literature regarding that have come out, I don’t think it’s unfair to mention those things as part of modern day Catholicism,” Silverman said, referring to the 2015 depiction of The Boston Globe’s investigation into widespread child molestation within the Catholic Church. 

CCT President Sofia Estrada noted that CCT members are open-minded and dedicated to improving the Church.

“Obviously the Church is a huge institution that historically has been very problematic, we know that — it’s not a surprise to us,” Estrada, a senior, said. “So that’s something that we’re constantly working with as a Catholic community: How do we show that the Tufts Catholic community is not the Catholic Church at large?”

Tramontozzi agreed, adding that CCT makes an effort to be welcoming and inclusive to people of all backgrounds.

“We strive to be a really inclusive community and to really promote tolerance in respect to all religious denominations,” Tramontozzi said.

He said that the Tufts community is generally very supportive of different religious and cultural groups, and that religion-based satire should not have a place on campus.

“This isn’t a Tufts value,” he said. “No group, any religious, cultural group, no one should be mocked or satirized or targeted in a publication at Tufts … It’s important that we make a statement because we don’t want this to happen to any other group.”

Estrada said that the CCT leadership is currently working to provide support for the Catholic community regarding concerns that have been raised.

“I think that the most important thing is that people feel supported,” Estrada said. “When they were upset, it was important for us as leaders in that community to let them know that we heard them and we understood and we were just creating a space for them to debrief and talk about it. That was number one.” 

Tramontozzi said that the CCT has no plans to take further action, but still wants to ensure that members of the Catholic community have a space to reflect on the issue.

Silverman added that the magazine has not been contacted directly by members of the CCT about these concerns, and that the staff found out about the reactions indirectly.

The Zamboni was informed of concerns regarding their most recent issue through an email sent to the CCT e-list, which a member of The Zamboni is also on, Silverman said.

The Zamboni sent a message to University Chaplain Greg McGonigle last week to reach out to the Catholic Community at Tufts, but has not heard directly from the group, according to Silverman.

Drennan welcomes further dialogue about the concerns raised.

“The only way that as an organization we can learn what went over well and what went over like a lead balloon is if people actually talk to us,” Drennan said. “We can’t pick up on every vibe, we need people to tell us.”