Last Thursday, the Grover Cleveland High School newspaper, Le Sabre, published and distributed a special four-page Vagina Day edition that caused uproar on the school campus.
It was the word “vagina” in a hot-pink headline, “Have a Happy Vagina Day!” and a labeled diagram of a vagina in the center of the front page of the school’s newspaper that stirred controversy and resulted in the censoring of V-day at the local high school.
On Friday, Le Sabre staff writers entered the campus with shirts reading, “My Vagina Is Obscene” in order to embody the message the newspaper staff received from Principal Bob Marks.
Rachel Reyes, 16, La Sabre staff writer, said she and the other staff writers were sent to the dean’s office during lunch as a result.
“We basically sat there all of lunch and we were lectured,” Reyes said. She added that Rita Hall, director of the school of advanced studies at the high school, compared the word vagina to the “N-word” and said that both words are “offensive in any context.”
Reyes said Assistant Principal Patrick Shanahan called the shirts “a safety hazard” while Dean Carlos Valdovinos called them “a health hazard” because they were “disrupting the education that was going on in school.”
The staff writers’ parents were called, said Reyes. She said that the dean tried to convince her mother to force her to wear her shirt inside out.
“My mom was like, ‘she’s not going (to wear the shirt) inside and out, it’s her choice,”‘ Reyes said. “(The administrators) basically said that (the staff writers) weren’t protected under the First Amendment right, that because it was on a T-shirt, it’s not freedom of speech.”
Reyes said the students were allowed to leave the dean’s office only if they agreed to zip up their jackets for the remainder of the day.
“I zipped it up when I was walking to class and once I got to the hallway I unzipped it,” Reyes said. “I think it was just ridiculous?By calling so much attention to it, the administration made it a lot worse.”
Shanahan said most of the students did zip their jackets, but others that refused to cover up their shirts were kept in the dean’s office because certain words were “disruptive to the educational process.”
Reyes, who wrote the front-page article, said administrators were confiscating newspapers as they were being delivered on Thursday.
“They were just going to classrooms during first and second period, taking out stacks that had already been delivered to the hallways and they also took away a cart of newspapers that were being delivered by students to the rest of the school,” Reyes said. “They just took a whole stack of papers that were on a cart and put them in the dean’s office.”
During second period, an announcement was made to the classrooms telling teachers not to distribute the publication if they still had them, said Reyes. However, a couple of teachers hid the newspapers in their drawers and passed them out during class when there were no administrators around, she added.
“One teacher was actually reading the whole issue out loud to the students,” Reyes said.
Although many teachers showed the newspaper their support not all of them felt the content was appropriate.
“They were tearing up issues in front of their classes and ranting about how terrible and disgusting it was,” she said. “(The teachers were) saying that it didn’t go with how we teach abstinence and safe sex, which the whole issue had nothing to do with. The issue was about Vagina Day, not sex.”
Reyes said the issue was called “obscene” and “vulgar” by Marks. The principal could not be reached at press time. In a Los Angeles Times article published on Saturday in the California section, Marks commented on the V-day special edition issue, calling it “tasteless.”
“The only argument they really have is that parents were going to get angry and the school would lose its accreditation for the next four years, which is ridiculous because if we are a good school then I don’t know, the word vagina on their newspaper wouldn’t matter,” Reyes said. “It was made into a bigger thing than it needed to be because it’s really not a big deal and the fact that the word ‘vagina’ is still so taboo like in the school and the society, it’s just ridiculous.”
Le Sabre staff writer Damian Romero, 17, said the issue should not have been censored because it was “really informative…especially in today’s times where one out of three women are going to be raped or sexually abused in some way in their lifetime.”
Editor-in-chief Richard Edmond, 15, said the school was wrong for suspending the newspaper because the issue itself was about bringing awareness of violence against women.
Shanahan explained why the newspaper was confiscated and deemed “inappropriate.”
“What happened is several things went wrong,” Shanahan said. “There’s obviously poor judgment on the part of several faculty members and then several of the review processis weren’t in place because it’s a public school.”
Though the front-page graphic may have been acceptable at a college newspaper, it was not appropriate at a high school level, said Shanahan.
“The school has to respect the views of everyone that we serve and not just the views of a minority or even a majority,” Shanahan said, “but if everyone had a liberal point of view or a conservative point of view, it would be wrong for us to impose that on everybody. So there has to be a certain amount of constraint.”
Shanahan commented that issue was well-written but it had a major impact on its audience because of the graphics.
“The kids did an excellent job,” said Shanahan. “But you (need) to package it correctly.”
The administration told the staff writers that they admired them and that they would have been doing the same if they were students, said Romero.
“That just angers me even more because they’re saying like, ‘Oh we agree with you but still what you are doing is wrong,’ which is a huge contradiction,” he said.
Romero commented on the administration’s reaction of the school losing its accreditation because of the labeled diagram of a vagina.
“I think that’s nonsense because I don’t think that they’re going to pull accreditation because we have a vagina in our newspaper,” he said. “I think that qualifies us more because we’re actually…willing to take chances like that. I think that that reflects positively on the school. I really just think the administration is scared of losing the accreditation or of not looking perfect.”
Reyes said the word “vagina” would not go away even if the administration thought it was obscene. “Taking the paper away doesn’t matter,” she said. “The word still exists. My vagina is still here, everyone still has their vagina. Just because you take the paper away, (the word ‘vagina’) not going away.”
Reyes said there will be an open forum today where teachers and students can discuss what happened. She added that there will also be a discussion on whether or not the monthly Le Sabre should continue running.