A few Palo Alto High School juniors prompted a response from Paly administration after harshly criticizing a ruling to ban a Spirit Week theme idea deemed culturally insensitive.
In the Class of 2017 Spirit Week theme meeting on Sept. 1, students selected the theme “Gold Chains” as one of the top options. The theme would consist of students dressing to mimic hip-hop culture. Student Activities Director Matthew Hall went to administration to approve the theme, but it was quickly ruled out.
In the wake of the decision, several juniors posted on Facebook to express their opinions on the matter. According to junior Adrian Smith, he posted a photo of a hand controlling a puppet in the “Paly Class of 2017” Facebook group because the decision brought up issues of student voice.
“I felt like the student body [Associated Student Body] wasn’t a ‘student-based’ group,” Smith said. “My original goal of posting that picture was to speak for us students and to slightly send a message to the staff.”
Principal Kim Diorio directed an email yesterday towards the whole Class of 2017 but specifically responded to the upset students who posted on Facebook to express their opinions, calling some messages “hurtful, accusatory and cruel.” Diorio explains the rationale and process for banning the theme in her email.
“First, instead of being upset with your peers or teachers, please know the administrative team at Paly unanimously ruled against the ‘Gold chains/thug life’ theme based on concerns of cultural appropriation, offending others and/or perpetuating stereotypes,” Diorio said in the email. “We recognize, and this Facebook page confirms to some degree, a greater need for sensitivity training and developing empathy and compassion towards one another at Paly.”
At first, junior Emily Read said she did not recognize the reasoning for banning the theme. According to Read, other class members were also bothered when the decision first went public. At the time it was not clear to everyone as to who had made the decision, so people incorrectly held ASB accountable for the ban. Junior Ibby Day also believes students directed their frustrations at the wrong people.
“I think a lot of the people who were angry at the banned theme don’t really understand what ASB’s part in this whole thing is,” Day said. “I think many people use ASB as a direct way to start a fight because it is mostly student-run, and they don’t want to bring up the issue to the Paly admin adults.”
Day says she wrote a Facebook post in the class group to defend the members of ASB, who were the intended recipients of some unkind messages written by juniors.
“I want to defend ASB again because all they are doing is making sure that Paly doesn’t get sued for a week that honestly has no apparent value besides fun and cooperation amongst peers,” Day said in the post.
According to Day, she was disturbed by the disrespect being aimed toward ASB.
“People were making rash accusations towards people who were only trying to keep Spirit Week fun and inclusive,” Day said.
According to Read, she realized the cause of the ban after explanations by Diorio and Hall, though she is still disappointed with the final outcome.
“I’m still upset that it [the theme] was banned, but I understand why and I agree with it not being used,” Read said.
Day appreciates Diorio’s message to her class as well.
“I feel her response was completely appropriate to the situation,” Day said. “She handled it professionally and [was] open-minded, and I’m glad she took action because those who targeted ASB need to understand that if they have a serious concern with why Spirit Week themes are banned, they have the opportunity to work it out with an admin.”