By Will Verdeur ’17
Jesse Watters ’01, a Trinity alumnus and employee of Fox News, has generated a widespread controversy on account of racist remarks made during candid interviews in New York City’s Chinatown. The interviews are part of a news segment called Watters’ World, in which Watters walks around the city interviewing strangers he catches off guard. He has described his method as a “man-on-the-street approach.” He purports an interest in gender equity, feminism and the advancement of inclusivity and diversity on campus. In an attempt to investigate the effect of Donald Trump’s vitriolic defamation of China on Chinese-Americans, Watters was dispatched to New York’s Chinatown. He begins his segment with the instrumental intro to the song “Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting,” which, along with his frequent cut-aways to clips from popular Hollywood movies like The Karate Kid and to scenes of himself doing martial arts and getting a foot massage, has incited anger among many of his viewers, who believe this to be cultural appropriation.
Upon approaching a street vendor selling watches, his first question was, “are they hot?” harping on a stereotype that Chinese street vendors sell stolen goods and are generally dishonest.
At one point during the segment, Watters attempted to interview an elderly woman who only stared blankly at him without responding. She likely did not speak English. Instead of cutting out this portion of the segment, as some of his critics have suggested he should have done, he left it in and inserted a cut-away to a clip from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein in which Teri Garr yells “Speak! Speak! Why won’t you speak?”
These among many other moments in the segment have ignited the rage of many, particularly members of the Trinity Community. Alumnus Hal Ebbott ’10, sent an email on Oct. 6 requesting that President Berger-Sweeney “publicly disavow Watters’ work.” He went on to claim, “Sometimes it goes without saying that an institution does not support or stand behind the actions of its representatives. In this case, however, I think the point needs to be made.” Ebbot commented that “[his] reaction and the reaction of many of [his] friends to the knowledge that Watters graduated from Trinity amounted to something like: ‘Well…of course.’”
President Berger-Sweeney responded to Ebbot, saying, “I found the segment terribly sad and hurtful. It does not reflect who we are as an institution or campus community.” Karla Spurlock-Evans, Dean of Multicultural Affairs, said the following: “The mocking interviews in Fox News’s Chinatown segment were cringe-worthy. In contrast, there are countless Trinity alumni and other members of our College community who choose to stand up against bigotry, even when it is cloaked as harmless fun and games. In the meantime, we are hard at work recruiting and supporting the latest generation of Trinity students – a diverse and talented group of students, I might add – and trying to create an environment where all students feel respected and included.”
By Will Verdeur ’17