ASB breast cancer awareness shirts stir controversy

Saba Moussavian and Amy Leung

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Boxes of ASB's breast cancer awareness shirts lay on the floor of the S

Boxes of the Associated Student Body’s breast cancer awareness shirts lie on the floor in the Student Activities Office. ASB had sold roughly 175 out of 450 shirts online and in person as of Thursday, according to Student Activities Director Matt Hall. Photo by Amy Leung.

After a controversy over a Palo Alto High School Associated Student Body’s shirt sale, ASB leaders are reiterating that the focus of the sale is to raise awareness of breast cancer.

According to ASB, officers decided to design and sell shirts with a message to raise awareness for breast cancer. The problem was what to do with any profits, although Student Activities Director and Japanese teacher Matt Hall said they did not expect any profits. Some students read on the Paly website that the shirts’ profits were not going directly to funding research to cure cancer and took action to express their disapproval through social media.

One of these vocal students was junior Griffin Carlson. His petition garnered 51 signatures in an hour-and-a-half to protest the sale of the shirts. He closed the petition after seeing ASB officers post on Facebook about being open to modifying their plans for the sale, Carlson said.

“I think it’s not morally right to use a disease to gain profit for something else that’s not benefiting people affected by the disease,” Carlson said.

Proceeds could not be directly given to a foundation because California Constitution Article 16 Section Six states that schools cannot donate to public funds, according to  Hall. Thus, ASB cannot legally donate to any cancer research foundation.

“Money raised by students must be spent on and for students,” Hall said.

The situation highlights a challenge many ASB clubs have faced since this law came into effect. The Free the Children Club faced these difficulties when attempting to send money raised by bake sales to its partner village in Ecuador, club member and senior Anna Dukovic said. The club instead had to find alternative methods of giving money to the village.

“We used that money to buy bracelets that women had made from many of the different villages and some of this money went to the villages directly, while the other proceeds went to the organization for other uses,” Dukovic said. “We have also focused more on campaigning and spreading awareness.”

This law makes the process of donating money to organizations much more tedious and hindering, Dukovic said, but she said she understands the rationale behind it.

“It does prevent our money from blindly being sent to a place without knowing exactly where in the village or organization it will go,” Dukovic said.

Instead of donating directly to a foundation, ASB will focus on raising awareness by hosting a tailgate for Friday’s football game, Liu said.

“When we noticed [donating] was illegal, we still are obviously going to do something about promoting awareness, as well as trying our best to get money to these organizations somehow in a legal way,” Liu said. “Our plan for that is to have charities with their tables at our tailgate.”

Junior Alfredo Gonzalez, whose own mother survived breast cancer, feels that there is no use in raising awareness.

“One of the things that angers me the most is the idea of breast cancer awareness,” Gonzalez said via a comment on Carlson’s petition.  “Everyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows it exists, so wearing pink doesn’t make you a hero. Donate your money to a legit charity that you care about.”

Some students, like junior Riley Schoeben, supported the way ASB handled the situation.

“I understand how hard it is to raise money for a charitable cause in a way the school allows them to,” Schoeben said. “It was a great idea that the t-shirts were used to spread awareness and the proceeds, which appear to be close to nothing, can’t be given to an outside organization anyway.”

If there is a profit, which according to Hall is unlikely,  it will go to the ASB general account. Money in the general account will then be used to subsidize Homecoming and Prom. For example, the general price of tickets will be lowered and subsidized for those who cannot afford tickets.

Carlson argues that there should not be any profit for ASB if its intention is to spread awareness.

“ASB could have chosen to not make a profit by selling the shirts for a cheaper amount of money, and thus be able to sell more shirts and get that awareness to more students,” Carlson said.

In the end, Hall wants to remind students to stay calm about the situation.

“Let’s one, take a deep breath,” Hall said. “Let’s support breast cancer awareness by being aware. … Let’s support Paly. It’s not even about supporting ASB. It’s about, ‘Let’s have something fun for Paly on Friday night at the game.’ It’s a win-win.”

Update: ASB has released an official statement addressing the t-shirt controversy.