Deans ban on-campus display of public service announcements

Use condoms, be happy, or use condoms, stay happy?  The subtle difference cost Lauren Rose ’07 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 school’s position on sex and the purpose of distributing free condoms is to say, “If you have sex, please use a condom.” The deans felt Rose’s poster was saying, “Have sex, and you’ll be happy,” Church said.

Rose obtained the condoms she photographed in the PSA from the deans’ office.

“So Lauren, are you staying on principle of your initial artistic intention?” photography teacher Kevin O’Malley asked.

“Kind of, because I don’t want to change it, and I like it,” she replied.

“In reality it’s more that [the deans] don’t want posters of condoms up around school,” Katie MacDonald ’08 added.

Erik Haake’s ’08 poster was lying on a table, depicting a shadowy figure passed out in a street: it reads “Samuel Adams: Not Always a Good Decision.” Kasey Kissick’s ’08 anti-smoking announcement was initially not given approval because Marin Dennis ’08 is identifiably smoking in the photo, though a fake cigarette was used.

Under the California Student Free Expression Law, private secondary schools “shall 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.”  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.

O’Malley told the students a story of another case of censorship in the early 1980s at Westlake School during one of his “favorite exhibitions ever.” 

“What the student did is she took this ratty old doll of hers and walked around L.A. and came up to people and said, ‘Hey, 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, ‘Can I take your picture with my doll?’ and the guy grabs the doll, lifts up its skirt and sticks his tongue out and she went click.”

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, O’Malley said, typed a one page essay about a headmaster’s responsibilities and posted it in the gallery.

“Two days later she posted her rebuttal,” O’Malley continues. “Two days later he posted his rebuttal.”
The students laughed.

“By the end there were six or seven essays.  No pictures, just essays.  And it was the best show ever.  Because the dialogue was open. That’s what I think can happen with this assignment.”
The students talked of turning their own posters towards the wall. Kelsey Work ’08 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.  O’Malley’s role in the dialogue was a “facilitator, but a facilitator with maybe a Molotov cocktail behind his back,” he later said.
“We’re not trying to punish or prevent our students from believing what they believe,” Adegbile said about the banned posters.  “But 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.”

Megan Rich ’08 used mandatory human development classes as an example of what could possibly be offensive to religious students.

Gabby Horton ’08 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.

“You can’t take one isolated poster and say that causes someone to do something,” Oxelson said.

“But when you repeatedly have similarly themed comments being made, posters that are being made, videos, all of that contributes to that general theme.  That’s what advertising does, so you really can’t debate that.”

Cairns suggests that the posters should be hung up as an exhibition in Feldman-Horn Gallery with an explanation about the assignment. 

“Whether they belong down in the public area of our school is one thing but the gallery is totally different,” she said.

Before the posters were hung up yesterday, all posters were reexamined for final approval. The second time around, Kissick’s poster was approved.