By Nuriel Moghavem and Ali Pechman
Use condoms, be happy, or use condoms, stay happy?Â The subtle difference cost Lauren Rose â07 the opportunity to display her public service announcement about having safe sex, which she prepared for her Advanced Photography II class.
On the wall of Feldman-Horn 106, the poster of a smiling face made up of multicolored condoms looked down on a circle of more than a dozen students in the seventh period class as they debated March 22 on the decision of the upper school deans to prohibit four projects from being displayed on campus.
Director of Student Affairs Jordan Church explained that the schoolâs position on sex and the purpose of distributing free condoms is to say, âIf you have sex, please use a condom.â The deans felt Roseâs poster was saying, âHave sex, and youâll be happy,â Church said.
Rose obtained the condoms she photographed in the PSA from the deansâ office.
âSo Lauren, are you staying on principle of your initial artistic intention?â photography teacher Kevin OâMalley asked.
âKind of, because I donât want to change it, and I like it,â she replied.
âIn reality itâs more that [the deans] donât want posters of condoms up around school,â Katie MacDonald â08 added.
Erik Haakeâs â08 poster was lying on a table, depicting a shadowy figure passed out in a street: it reads âSamuel Adams: Not Always a Good Decision.â Kasey Kissickâs â08 anti-smoking announcement was initially not given approval because Marin Dennis â08 is identifiably smoking in the photo, though a fake cigarette was used.
Under the California Student Free Expression Law, private secondary schools âshall not make or enforce any rule subjecting any high school pupil to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct that is speech or other communication.âÂ The students were not disciplined for trying to hang up the posters, but students feel slighted after creating projects for the purpose of public awareness that cannot be displayed at school.
OâMalley told the students a story of another case of censorship in the early 1980s at Westlake School during one of his âfavorite exhibitions ever.âÂ
âWhat the student did is she took this ratty old doll of hers and walked around L.A. and came up to people and said, âHey, can I take a picture of you with my doll? She saw a biker with his family, this big tall six foot six guy, tattoos, totally buff, and she goes, âCan I take your picture with my doll?â and the guy grabs the doll, lifts up its skirt and sticks his tongue out and she went click.â
Once the photo was hung up in the gallery, Headmaster Nat Reynolds asked for it to be taken down, to which the student responded by turning all her photos toward the wall. The perturbed headmaster, OâMalley said, typed a one page essay about a headmasterâs responsibilities and posted it in the gallery.
âTwo days later she posted her rebuttal,â OâMalley continues. âTwo days later he posted his rebuttal.â
The students laughed.
âBy the end there were six or seven essays.Â No pictures, just essays.Â And it was the best show ever.Â Because the dialogue was open. Thatâs what I think can happen with this assignment.â
The students talked of turning their own posters towards the wall. Kelsey Work â08 worked on her new poster: a picture of the constitution with sections of it blacked out.
Deans Canh Oxelson, Tamar Adegbile, Jason Honsel, Vanna Cairns and Church were invited to a discussion with the eighth period Advanced Photography II class on March 30. Students from the seventh period class were present.Â OâMalleyâs role in the dialogue was a âfacilitator, but a facilitator with maybe a Molotov cocktail behind his back,â he later said.
âWeâre not trying to punish or prevent our students from believing what they believe,â Adegbile said about the banned posters.Â âBut when what they believe demonstrates something that could be offensive to someone else in our community, that is when it needs to be objected to.â
Megan Rich â08 used mandatory human development classes as an example of what could possibly be offensive to religious students.
Gabby Horton â08 asked if the real purpose of the censorship is based on how the deans feel about the image of the school, rather than on offended students.
âYou canât take one isolated poster and say that causes someone to do something,â Oxelson said.
âBut when you repeatedly have similarly themed comments being made, posters that are being made, videos, all of that contributes to that general theme.Â Thatâs what advertising does, so you really canât debate that.â
Cairns suggests that the posters should be hung up as an exhibition in Feldman-Horn Gallery with an explanation about the assignment.Â
âWhether they belong down in the public area of our school is one thing but the gallery is totally different,â she said.
Before the posters were hung up yesterday, all posters were reexamined for final approval. The second time around, Kissickâs poster was approved.