Igniting the Fire
Online magazine creates multicultural discourse
Published: Friday, January 24, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 24, 2014 00:01
In 2000, when a group of black students received death threats because of their race, eight Georgetown students decided that they needed to take action to change the campus conversation about racial issues. That year, they founded an online magazine called The Fire This Time, looking to open up a dialogue about how Hoyas deal with multiculturalism. Since its founding, the magazine has been revamped several times, most notably in 2009 after students were offended by an insensitive April Fools’ Edition of The Hoya and in 2010, when former Washington Post writer and English professor Athelia Knight taught a class through the university to help the paper. Despite the reincarnations of the magazine, its mission remains the same: to create dialogue and awareness about different backgrounds and experiences outside of just an academic setting.
Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Dromgoole (SFS ’16) believes that the staff behind the online publication has the potential to make a significant difference on campus. The staff, comprised of students from all four years and schools on campus, represents a broad array of ethnic backgrounds, all of whom contribute an important perspective to the magazine. Dromgoole himself is from Guadalajara, Mexico, and immigrated to Austin, Texas, at a young age. He believes this background has given him a unique vantage point to address the issues of race.
“I am proud to say I am racially diverse,” Dromgoole said. “As the first fashion editor to become Editor-in-Chief, I think I have a unique ability to expand the magazine’s scope.”
The writers for the magazine argue that the campus is not as racially harmonious as one might assume. Dromgoole attests that many minorities face discrimination on campus and that it is not limited to a specific group.
“Sometimes minorities on campus are misinterpreted,” Dromgoole said. “Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, even White students on campus can and have felt segregated or pushed to the side.” The magazine tries to bring this discrimination to light.
The site features a variety of different content, from music reviews and fashion to raw short stories and poetry. Their “Things that make you go hmm … ” section, modeled after The Microaggressions Project Tumblr page, addresses several facets of racial discrimination that are often ignored. Using a thought-provoking method of challenging common societal misconceptions, it asks ironically, “In a post-racist, post-sexist, post-classist world, what problems can we possibly have?! We can make Cheerios commercials starring interracial families without large protest. We can applaud women as they earn 100 cents for every dollar men earn. We can be a black male, live in New York and succumb to being ‘stopped and frisked’ only on rare occasions. We can bury the term ‘food desert,’ as all Americans have access to healthy food in their respective communities.” The Fire This Time argues that things that we are ready to accept as fact are in fact fictional. Thus, the magazine attempts to clarify the campus misconceptions about race, class and gender.
The Fire This Time is published online with content either written by the staff or submitted by readers. They also use Facebook, Twitter and social events like their semester launch parties to engage their readership. However, despite having many platforms to reach readers, the magazine has struggled to remain relevant.
“In an age where news is almost instantly available online and through social media, it is difficult for students to actively engage,” Dromgoole said. He believes the solution is to focus on what makes The Fire This Time unique and to keep content memorable.
Ultimately, one has to question how much of an impact these articles can have. Will people really change their feelings about race because of something they read? The Fire This Time thinks that the most change may come through introspection by its readers. They use features such as the “Question of the Week” to invite readers to think critically about questions like “when was the last time you shared a meal with someone from a different cultural background than yourself?”
“This contemplation may sustain true dialogue and awareness concerning our different background and experiences,” Dromgoole said.
Dromgoole believes the challenges the publication faces are far from insurmountable. Building a readership is a common problem for other campus publications, and remaining relevant in the age of social media is a challenge being faced by publications the world over. Dromgoole is ready to take on the challenge.