Did college newspaper break the law with graphic images in sex column? Some say so

Del Mar College Memorial Classroom building
Del Mar College Memorial Classroom building

The student newspaper at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, says its editor's finals-themed column was "light-hearted."

But some are calling it pornography.

The column, which The Foghorn News stands by, was titled "Finals aren't the only thing going down," and was published Monday. Finals at Del Mar started on Thursday.

In the column, Mark Young, 19, decries professors who 'gang-bang' students with essays and tests as the semester ends, and suggests sex with a fellow student as a stress-reduction method.

He even offers some graphic illustrations from a student artist that depict people engaged in heterosexual and homosexual intercourse while cramming for exams on a laptop or by reading a book.

"You probably don't have time" for separating your sex from your study time this time of year, he writes, so "these wonderful techniques" can make the final leg of the school calendar "a little more bearable," as long as students "wear a condom and proofread your paper," Young writes.

The Foghorn e-edition shows how the sex column appeared in print on Monday, April 30. Parts of the illustrations have been censored here. The Foghorn News

The accompanying images have become a hot topic of conversation around the college, as at least one professor has suggested that printing them along with the column could leave Young and the Foghorn susceptible to charges of disseminating pornography to a minor, since the Del Mar campus is also home to Collegiate High School.

"It is a shame that this student did not take into consideration the distribution of this pornography to underage students,” Melissa Stuive, a Del Mar assistant professor in the department of public safety education, told the Foghorn in a follow-up story. “Providing access to children under 18 is illegal.”

The legal definition of pornography in the Texas penal code is "visual or written material which depicts lewd or sexual acts, and which is intended to cause sexual arousal." Since the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported that the purpose of the Foghorn's column is parody, and since actual genitalia were omitted from the accompanying illustrations, the column does not appear to fit that definition.

"As a former prosecutor and a longtime defense attorney, I would want no part of this as a criminal offense, and would relish defending a case based on something like this," Brett Podolsky, whose law firm is based in Houston, told McClatchy. "This would set off all kinds of First Amendment alarms. It is a drawing, it's clearly intended as satire, it does not depict genitals or breasts, and it does not depict any activities that would be universally considered perverse or demeaning. As to the argument of being harmful to a minor, please, wake up people. There is this thing called the internet, check it out. 'Google' boobies and see what comes up."

Young told McClatchy that he had not been threatened with charges by anyone inside campus administration or outside it.

"I stand by my column," Young said. "We checked beforehand. It didn't break any student publication rules, and it didn't break any laws. It offended some people, and that is just the world we live in. I'd totally write it again."

But that hasn't stopped the outrage.

One math professor told the Foghorn for the follow-up: “This article is extremely offensive to my God and to my Catholic religion. I recommend that all copies of this edition be immediately destroyed."

Young, meanwhile, wishes those with complaints would have reached out to him directly.

“I think it’s upsetting that teachers are so quick to try and tear down a student instead of helping or trying to have a calm conversation about it,” Young told the Caller-Times. “All of these teachers said these things about me and my article but not a single one of them talked to me about it directly. If I hadn’t been shown those emails from another professor I wouldn’t have known. So the fact that these teachers are too afraid to talk to me directly is very telling and it’s unfortunate that Del Mar College teachers are acting like bullies and calling for my arrest because they got their feelings hurt."

In April the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors named the Foghorn the best non-daily student newspaper in the state.