Wall of Shame

By Austin Block and Faire Davidson

“People guess better than this! (ouch),” was written in purple on a student’s failed “Mrs. Dalloway” quiz underneath a circled 1, posted on a bulletin board for the viewing pleasure or displeasure of the whole school.

The board, known as the Wall of Shame, resides just outside Chalmers near the cafeteria, filled with failed or poor quizzes and assorted graded assignments.

The Wall of Shame was recently taken down; however nobody seems to know who did it. It is possible that during the campus cleanup before the college night the wall was taken down so that admissions officers and people from other schools wouldn’t see it, said Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra, but it cannot be confirmed.

The wall being taken down is “a little upsetting,” Kimo Thorpe ’09 said. “It was a tradition over the last couple of years.”

There was originally a Wall of Shame at Harvard boy’s school, where in April and May students would post rejections from colleges instead of graded assignments.

The new wall was originally on a column outside Director of Student Affairs Jordan Church and Father Jay Young’s offices, but it was relocated to the wall outside.

“[The Harvard wall] had a whole different feeling because it didn’t have to do with the day-to-day operations of the school,” Dean Vanna Cairns said, “I actually thought that was kind of therapeutic and it was sort of interesting.”

The wall has remained a senior tradition.

“Harvard-Westlake has such high standards for academic excellence so it’s funny to see tests and quizzes people have failed because it shows no one is perfect and everyone fails a test or a quiz at some point,” Rachel Scott ’09, who had an item on the wall, said.

Seniors posted their own or sometimes friends’ failures and generally thought of it as a harmless joke, but the deans and a few faculty members were unhappy with the displays of ineptitude and/or apathy.

“When I see the Wall of Shame I see people reveling in their failures,” Dean Jon Wimbish said.

Wimbish thinks that the board gave the impression to visitors, including college representatives, parents and applicants that “we don’t really care that we’re failing,” he said. “In fact, we’re going to joke about the fact that we’re failing.”

Billy Hawkins ’09, who is co-chair of the Student Ambassador Program, often gives tours of the campus to perspective parents and says that most don’t notice the wall.

The few that do have asked Hawkins what it is, and when he explains that it’s a place for students to display poor grades to relieve pressure, they laugh and continue their tour.

“Let’s be honest, the grade is abysmal, but anyone who judges me because I got an F on a reading quiz is a waste of my time,” Alyssa Garcia ’09 said. “I love the Wall of Shame, it’s fantastic. Getting a bad grade once in a while is not embarrassing.”

Wimbish said that he thinks students who get in to college early and post these quizzes, send “a bad message to other students who are not in to college yet or who are juniors and who are thinking about applying early to schools next year.”

Although many things on the wall are failed quizzes on subjects students just didn’t understand, many are jokes where instead of trying to guess, he or she tries to make the teacher laugh.

For example, in his AP English Language class, Thorpe answered “He held his nose” to the reading quiz question “How did Guilliver kiss his wife?”

One anonymous senior answered every question on a reading quiz with different food items, for example, peanut butter and jelly.

Maddie Lenard ’09 put up a bibliography with an attached list of requirements that she was unaware of, adding, “Who knew?”

Despite the faculty opposition, the deans didn’t want to take it down.

“We would love it to come from the students,” Cairns said, “for us to be the police and monitoring and going to places on campus and ripping posters down constantly just doesn’t feel right to us… we like to be more in partnership with your success here.”

A couple of teachers said they felt uncomfortable that their names and their personal comments were on display.

Math teacher William Thill told his students that he disliked the wall, seeing it as more of a condemnation of his teaching rather than a playful gesture when he sees something he graded posted.

Instead of posting something on the wall, the student should meet with him to understand the material, Thill said.

Cairns said that one teacher said, “I think less of that student now when I see that that is the way this student treats the work at Harvard-Westlake” and “This student goes down in my esteem.”

“For some it is cathartic,” school psychologist Shelia Siegel said. “It also certainly dispels the myth that all students at HW get all As. However I also think it makes some people uncomfortable.”

School counselor Luba Bek also added that putting something on the wall could be soothing to some because it lowers the significance of the grade, which usually bothers students greatly.

Bek does not approve of public sharing of grades and using poor grades to make other poor grades seem normal.

Although Wimbish said he would be okay with the wall if it is truly serving as a therapeutic method, “It’s hard for me to see it another way than how I’m interpreting it now.”

“Under pressure from my friends on the Prefect Council, I put the quiz up myself,” Harry Botwick ’09 said. “It doesn’t bother me at all that my shameful work is available for public viewing. I think it’s generally understood that the work posted doesn’t necessarily reflect the usual quality of a student’s work.”