Palo Alto High School students expressed mixed reactions to the Interim Supt. Karen Hendrick’s statement describing her decision to remove alumnus James Franco’s mural and artwork from campus.
In the letter, Hendricks emphasized the importance of student mental and physical health.
“The decision to remove the mural, and now artwork, was not made lightly,” Hendricks wrote. “But we will always prioritize the physical and emotional well-being of our students over any other concerns.”
Senior Louisa Keyani believes that the school’s response to the allegations shows students where the administration stands on issues of sexual assault.
“It’s important for the people making these decisions to think about what they want Paly to represent,” Keyani said. “I think it’s great that they decided to take them down and show that Paly isn’t going to stand for what he has been accused of.”
Junior Paloma Mitra agrees, adding that removing Franco’s paintings sends a message that sexual assault will not be tolerated at Paly.
“While taking down his art may be a symbolic act, I think the messages it sends and recent moves by our interim superintendent, along with the movement in general, are perhaps indicators of the future where victims are finally able to feel safe and protected in the workplace, school, etcetera,” Mitra said.
Senior Alyssa Ibuyun also addressed the #TimesUp movement, a campaign against sexual harassment, while expressing her opinion on the removal of the art pieces.
“I think admin taking down the paintings was the right move,” Ibuyun said. “The accusations hold a lot of weight, especially since Hollywood is in the midst of the #TimesUp movement.”
Keyani added that while she supported removing the artwork for the time being, she believes that the administration should still consider redisplaying the pieces if Franco is found to be innocent.
On the other hand, some students believes that these accusations do not make Franco guilty, and that until proven otherwise, he is presumed innocent. Senior Peter Gold, who worked closely with Franco during his workshop at Paly, is a big proponent of the #MeToo movement, a campaign that strives to “support survivors and end sexual violence.” However, Gold argues that the administration should have waited to remove the artwork, as Franco has not been convicted of any of the allegations.
“I believe in innocent until proven guilty, as we all should,” Gold said. “The administration should have waited, and it’s very frustrating that it didn’t. This is now a national news story, that is only going to create problems for both Franco, and our community. If admin had just waited, and put its foot down to the few parents and teachers that were in her ear insisting that it take the mural down, everything would be just fine. Now we have a big problem on our hands.”
Other students agree, believing the Paly administration may have acted too rashly.
“I honestly don’t see why they had to immediately take it down because nothing has been proven yet,” senior Raj Lele said. “Additionally, having Franco’s art is pretty special, considering he’s a successful actor. It’s like if Davante Adams did something at Paly like that, I think we’d all appreciate it. It’s really how we just perceive the person.”
Freshman Audrey Lemoine said she is unsure of whether she supports the decision to remove the art pieces currently displayed in the Media Arts Center, as Franco has not been convicted of sexual assault.
“I think if the allegations can be confirmed, then they should take down the art,” Lemoine said. “But since right now there isn’t proof, it might be better for them to wait a while and see how this plays out.”
While students are divided on whether the removal of Franco’s artwork and mural was the right move, most agree that the administration must do more to address the seemingly recurring issues of sexual assault and harassment.
“I’m not exactly sure what [admin] can do about it [the allegations], but talking about what’s going on would be a good start,” Ibuyun said.