On a late Wednesday afternoon, Shanti Hinkin ’22 listened to the combination of voices that comprised the Chamber Singers as they sang Brahms’s “Der Gang zum Liebchen.” However, this year, something was very different: she was sitting alone, watching her fellow choral members through a computer screen. This is because choir, along with almost every other performing arts ensemble and student-led group except for sports teams, has not been allowed to convene on campus due to the pandemic . Hinkin said she feels frustrated by the school’s decision to not allow choir to practice in person.
“I’m aware these decisions aren’t entirely up to Harvard-Westlake and that they are decided by the county in many ways, so this isn’t me being upset with administrators,” Hinkin said. “That being said, it is definitely hard to see athletes practicing when arts isn’t, mostly just because I’m jealous and want to be pursuing what I love while my classmates get to pursue what they love.”
Hinkin reflected on her inability to fully engage in her passion, while athletes get to participate in their sports .
“This isn’t the first time athletics has been put before arts in terms of funding or resources, which definitely doesn’t make this feel any better,” Hinkin said. “It’s super difficult to wrap my head around any child’s joy being weighted heavier than another’s, especially because arts play a big role in everyone’s life just as much as sports do. So in terms of fairness, it is not easy to walk on campus and see the football players training, talking and laughing when I don’t get to see my friends and classmates in that same way.”
Unfortunately for non-athletes, the guidelines issued by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH) have made it extremely difficult for student groups to convene on campus. Head of Communications and Strategic Initiatives Ari Engelberg said the county’s guidelines are a major reason for the decision to only bring sports back to campus.
“The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issues guidance to schools about the activities that are allowed on campus during the pandemic,” Engelberg said. “Currently, LADPH has allowed youth sports activity and has also allowed schools to bring students back to campus in small groups for specialized services and social-emotional wellness programs.”
When asked about why performing arts groups have not been allowed to return to school, Engelberg again cited the LADPH.
“Simply put, performing arts programs such as choir and improv are not taking place on campus because the LADPH has not allowed them,” Engelberg said.
Although many students are displeased with their inability to meet in person for performing arts activities, improv performer Sophia Haynes ’22 said she has enjoyed her experience on Zoom and does not feel a rush to go back to campus to rehearse.
“We finished the school year doing [improv] online and even had a show through Zoom,” Haynes said. “I thought that improv wasn’t really affected as much as I expected it to be when we switched from in-person to online. Everything was super doable and still fun online, so I think it’s fair that we’re not the top priority in terms of activities returning to campus.”
Similarly to Hinkin, Chamber Singers Vice President Billy Johnson ’22 said that he feels choir has been negatively impacted by online learning.
“Choir has been a fraction of what it should be because the lag makes it impossible for us all to sing together, which really sucks because one of my favorite aspects about choir is hearing satisfying harmonies just really settle into place,” Johnson said.
Because of rising coronavirus cases, Johnson said he thinks no activities should be held on campus right now.
“Frankly, I don’t think that any activities should really be allowed to meet in person just because of how severe the virus is getting, but if sports meet the requirements, choir definitely should too,” Johnson said. “I absolutely think that choir could adhere to the social distancing guidelines if only the administration would let us.”
With all this being said, members of sports teams share a different perspective on why they are allowed to meet on campus whereas other student groups cannot.
Wide receiver Alex Mogollon ’22 said it is easier for sports teams to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines than non-sports teams.
“I think that when considering sports, we usually practice on a large open area, which gives us a lot of flexibility to practice safely, whereas that might be more difficult for performing arts,” Mogollon said. “Especially at the stage that we’re at now, without contact , we take extra precautions to ensure we maintain COVID-19 guidelines. In my mind, for performing arts, whether it be singing, dancing or theatre, it would probably be more difficult than football to maintain those same guidelines.”
Varsity Cross Country runner India Spencer ’21 has had her athletics and other extracurriculars affected in both regards, as her cross country team is allowed to practice on campus, while her Peer Support group is not. Spencer said she believes if teams can practice, then her student-led group should be allowed to convene in person as well.
“I think that Peer Support should be allowed to meet on campus when there are countless teams practicing together on campus right now,” Spencer said. “Also, a lot of those teams do not take the COVID-19 guidelines seriously, which is even more frustrating because that is what is causing us to not be able to do more things on campus.”
With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, there is no telling the future for in-person athletics, as President Rick Commons stated in an email Nov. 18, when he shut down all on-campus activities until Dec. 4. However, Hinkin still said she feels that the arts have not been taken into consideration.
“I knew everyone wanted to have their turn living normal life, but it was just a shock seeing how normal life is for some people,” Hinkin said. “Frankly, I was jealous. I was hurt. And I hope the administration will be our advocate as much as they can as soon as possible.”