By Michelle Rabinovich and Andrea Mocevic
Grandview High School’s 2018 prom theme has been nothing if not controversial.
The “Grand Dynasty” theme is a self claiming ode to both the East Asian culture and Grandview’s 20th anniversary. The majority of the Grandview community is in full support of this unique theme, though a small group of students and parents feel confusion or even anger at what they perceive to be cultural appropriation. To that end, the leadership team has been tirelessly attempting to assure this group of students of their pure intentions.
Student leadership and prom committee representative, junior Angela Na, stated that the committee expected backlash, but was taken aback by the harsh words of some peers.
“As a Korean American, we have been extremely careful with the decor and theme name. The ‘Grand Dynasty’ wasn’t met to be ‘oriental’ but promote and celebrate 20 years of Grandview. We would never ever try to speak negatively of cultures,” said Na.
Many students can understand this intention, and are excited that Grandview is celebrating new cultures.
“I don’t see anything wrong with it. I think it's the coolest thing we have seen in a long time,” said senior Daja Cortez.
“I know that we can't say anything because we’re not Asian. We can’t be like, ‘oh it's not appropriating’, but looking at a different standpoint like if they’ve done their research... it should correlate with the font and the lantern but the fact that it's not being stereotyped is the best part of it and most important... there isn't an Asian person on the invitation. There are a lot of things they could have done but didn’t because they made sure it wasn't appropriating,” said senior, Mahlet Mamo.
Something that makes our generation great is the vast diversity in opinions. With any proposed idea, there are a hundred ready responses. The sensitivity of the prom committee was equally as debated.
“I think that with the conversation they had, it seemed like they didn’t even bother to consult teachers. My Chinese teacher went to Stanford for East Asian studies for God’s sake, you can consult her and ask her about some specifics and there are specifics that I would prefer to see,” stated a frustrated student who asked to be anonymous.
Would consulting with staff and other Asian-American students break the tradition of closely guarding the secret of the prom theme? Yes. However, one could argue that such an unconventional choice would relieve the majority of stress and backlash Grandview student leadership had to endure.
“Appropriating someone's culture means you take someone's culture and make it your own and no one is trying to do that, we are trying to honor [East Asian culture],” said Mamo
Despite outbursts and even tweets calling out leadership students by calling them “racist” or “culturally insensitive”, the anonymous senior states that despite their “initial thoughts that the prom theme reflected poorly” on their culture, they continue their “fight for equality”. The student believes that the theme in itself is not a bad one, but the current “political climate” coupled with the hypersensitivity of our society to racial issues made 2018 a poor timing choice for such a theme.
So what do these disgruntled students suggest?
“Its an example with Jeremy Lin about getting dreadlocks. He consulted his teammates who were African American and basically consulted them on how he should do it, he consulted, asked them about it and what does this sound like? His teammates went with him to the barbershop to make sure it wasn’t cultural appropriation,” said the student. However, the senior is not supporting a boycott of the 2018 Grand Dynasty prom, but rather warns people of how to and how not to behave.
“I think chopsticks in the hair might be borderline culture appropriation because no woman in China wears that, not that I know of anyway, but wearing the dress would be because many women in China wear it,” said the senior.
“I believe that if I can’t talk about my own culture and celebrate it as a prom theme, I think that is really scary. I was really excited for this theme,” said Na.
The prom committee group of three “put a lot of thought on how we are proceeding forward and making sure we are being respectful and honoring rather than appropriating and stereotyping and marginalizing because that is the last thing we would want to do,” said Grandview High School activities director and staff member representative for the prom committee, Alison Beaird
When asked about the timing of a culture based prom theme like the Grand Dynasty, leadership defended their choice.
“I believe that if I can’t talk about my own culture and celebrate it as a prom theme, I think that is really scary. I was really excited for this theme,” said Na. “Are we going to be so scared that we are suddenly stuck with Disney themes for all time? The way we are doing this, you can have a meaningful learning opportunity-- even at prom,” added Beaird.
Leadership assures the Grandview student body that this prom theme is still a formal an event as though it was any other theme. The decorations are described as artistic tapestries and resemble a traditional outdoor scene in Eastern Asia. Beside every artifact and art piece, there is said to be a placard defining each item and depicting their significance to the culture. For example, there will be a torii gate on display, with a corresponding sign.
“I think it will be a great learning opportunity as well as being a beautiful dance for kids to participate in and I think there is some concern about students making sure we communicate well around costumes. This isn't a costume party, this is a prom. We never had our kids dress towards a theme. We’re not wanting this to be a costume party, but rather show this culture,” said Beaird. “It is a formal event… but I don’t want students to come in costumes... I know I had some Asian students come to me excited about wearing their own cultural wardrobe, that’s beautiful. That’s a beautiful thing”.
For what it’s worth, we agree. No progress was ever made in this world by people evading the problem. Overcoming ignorance is one of the greatest challenges we face today.
That being said, Grandview leadership has been making “daily facts” announcements about East Asian cultures over the PA system to not only educate our students but to widen their understanding.
So where does the problem truly originate? Is it a poor prom theme? Should there have been more communication between the prom committee (Which once again-- is not one and the same with Grandview leadership), or does it maybe stem from a more fundamental aspect of our lives?
As far as social studies courses go at Grandview, we are offered a single semester course on World Religions. An hour and a half every other day for one semester, and only a handful of students who take the course. Perhaps this prom-tastrophe was a wakeup call that we, as a student body, may not be fully aware of how to properly learn and discuss cultures that aren’t our own. Even the purest intentions like the Grand Dynasty prom theme can be misconstrued as cultural appropriation or disrespect without proper communication. If anything, this prom theme has become a gateway to new ways of showcasing different ways of life.
“We have been super careful, we had multiple meetings and conversations about this, and definitely understand… where the student body comes from. I think once you do see all the effort we put in the dance, and care in the selection, I hope the student body will understand and celebrate with us,” said Na.
The biggest problem with the prom actually has almost nothing to do with the actual theme. We as a generation have become so accustomed to lashing out at others over social media that we don’t stop to contemplate potential repercussions.
“I would love to have deeper conversations on how we respond to controversy online. I think the hurtful thing for student leadership was that there was this immediate conclusion of wrongdoing and even that concept, there was never… meanness of intent and we always want to celebrate; and seek to come to the source instead of immediately labeling something as racist or cultural appropriation… It's easy enough to get online and speak your piece but [we are] encouraging students to come and talk,” said Beaird.
The idea that the Wolves were so ready to turn on one another and insult each other online is truly disheartening., especially since Grandview is running so many anti-bullying campaigns, including the infamous “No Place for Hate”. The truth is the Grand Dynasty theme for the 2018 prom is meant to celebrate Grandview’s 20th year since establishment and highlight East Asian culture. Misconceptions and bottled up anger led to very harmful things being said about Grandview’s leadership team, our peers and friends.
“I also had a student worried about Instagram and Twitter, about posting a stereotypical phrase. That is not appropriate... we don't want that, and to avoid that,” said Beaird.
After the damage that was already done, the hope remains that Grandview students will come to their senses and stop turning against one another, their peers. We are much more powerful as a united force against true injustices. We’re all in this together, High School Musical style.
Sure, it is easier to stay ignorant and jump to conclusions before fully understanding the circumstances, but as Aristotle once said: “Anybody can become angry-- that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way-- that is not within everybody’s power, and is not easy”.