I originally began the process of writing about the pep rally with the intent to write a normal article: start with something real, then add some stuff to make it (ideally) funny. But as I spoke to people, I realized that this was a big deal, and I felt that I had an obligation to report the truth, the whole truth, and (For once) nothing but the truth. What you are about to read is as accurate an account of the events surrounding the pep rally as I could get. I would like to thank everyone whom I interviewed for this article, especially those who put their disciplinary records in danger by talking to me. Their names, along with some sensitive personal information, has been redacted for their safety. I will refer to them as Deep Throat, Hobbes, Hashemi, and TJW (TJW stands for Thomas J. Walsh, a top investigator in the famous Teapot Dome scandal). I would also like to thank the school administration for taking time to respond to my questions, despite the fact that they have no oversight over what I write.
One more note: Throughout this article, I have used gender-neutral pronouns such as ze when referring to anonymous sources.
It should go without saying that, at school assemblies, chants of "Bullshit! Bullshit!" are never followed by anything good.
The pep rally incident, along with the events that caused it and the various ensuing consequences, have been the talk of the school for the last two weeks. The administration has blamed the incident on student disrespect, while the student body has blamed the administration for cuts and censorship. My investigation suggests that, as is so often the case, both sides are partially right. It's probably best to start with what everyone agrees on.
The pep rally occurred on November 26th, 2014. The beginning of the rally was, as far as I can gather, fairly normal. The main issue was the video made by the senior class, which has been a tradition for six years now. The video was heavily censored, incoherent, and worst of all, it was abruptly cut off by the administration five minutes before the ending. This last offense was too much for the students, and a chant of "Bullshit! Bullshit!" began. The chanting was eventually silenced, and the rally continued as planned. After the school returned from thanksgiving break, which directly follows the pep rally, our school principal, Dr. Pizzi made a morning announcement stating that he was disappointed by the conduct of the students - I seem to remember that the hated word "immature" came up - and that there may not be a pep rally video next year (As you will see, the "may" was somewhat of a misstatement).
Planning the Rally
TJW tells me that the pep rally video has been controversial ever since it began, however, ze said that this year, the students had tried more stuff, and the administration had been harsher in their censorship. Ze say that a lot of the problem is the changing culture of our school.
i think the culture of the school has changed a lot from what the pep rally originally was. this year was the beginning of being more strict about what can be shown and said, because the focus in the school on acceptance and diversity and respect has increased a ton over the past 2 years. the staff had this thought shift in mind, but the students haven't picked up the trend. why that has happened is a whole other issue/debate/conversation
I approached the school administration and asked for a response to some comments made by student sources, among them, this one by TJW. The administration responded,
We have been doing a lot of work as a staff and school community around cultural proficiency and school climate over the last few years. Many staff members and even students have taken leadership roles in the effort. We are constantly striving to reach a place where everyone acknowledges and embraces cultural differences and respects human dignity.
However, it's not entirely clear to me how "embracing cultural differences" and "respecting human dignity" relate to the pep rally video. Aside from the scene that was cut for being "transphobic", which we will return to later, most of the content was cut to keep it "school appropriate". A more questionable scene involved English teachers perform human sacrifice. Deep Throat tells me that
The big piece of censorship was that of the english department scene
they were against the pentagram and the rope around the neck (not because there was any resemblence of a noose)
Their reasoning was that it was "too violent"
Now, putting aside that in my view, human sacrifice is actually less horrific than what goes on at my English class on a daily basis, it's unclear what was so violent. First of all, an earlier scene that involved a student being stabbed to death was not cut, nor was a later scene where one of the heroes is killed with a stapler, and if they were controversial, not a single source told me. Secondly, we're high school students! Keeping with the theme of the English department, every student at our school reads Of Mice and Men in freshman year, and some read the famous holocaust novel Night. More importantly, the scene was not a dark scene, it's just funny. In a very eloquent letter to the administration, Deep Throat pointed out this out, citing the lighting and the lack of any kind of violence. Unfortunately, for security reasons, I cannot quote from this letter, but suffice to say, Deep Throat made his point very well and is a much better writer than I am.
However, the most widely cited complaint against the administration's handling of the pep rally video was the timing of their edits. According to Deep Throat, the administration told the movie team to cut the scene with the 'transphobic' tank top literally the day before the pep rally, despite the fact that the administration had seen the video, including that part, already - three times. When I asked the administration about this, they responded,
I appreciate the time and energy that was put into the production of the video and do apologize if I was not clear from the start about the revision process and the possibility of cuts throughout. In overseeing the video screening process, I tried to find a balance between the students' goal of entertaining their target audience and my responsibility of ensuring a safe environment for all students and staff.
While the response is quite polite, I can't help but notice that the administration never actually apologized for getting the last few cuts in really, really late. Also, I'm not sure how most of the cut scenes would have endangered students. The biggest threat I see was that of offending Wiccan students (Administration: Please don't get any ideas!), a crime of which I have been guilty of in the past.
A Brief Mention of Wordplay Involving Reproductive Anatomy
A final issue that bears mentioning was the pronunciation of a particular student's name. The name was pronounced as it is in Canada, which happens to rhyme with a part of the female anatomy... Oh, screw euphemisms - I, for one, think that high schoolers can deal with sexual themes. The name "Regina" was, on one occasion, pronounced with a long 'i', which is the Canadian pronunciation. This was done not to show solidarity with our Canadian brothers and sisters but for comic relief, to rhyme with "Vagina". (I'd like to apologise to both the school administration and the Republican wing of the Michigan state house for acknowledging a body part possessed by fully half of human beings.) This particular student has been called Regina with a long 'i' since freshman year, so many students considered the censorship somewhat silly.
The Trebel Rebels
Aside from the video itself, the main issue that bears mentioning is the repertoire of the Treble Rebels, the group best known for providing our school with its second-worst musical pun. For those who are unaware, the Treble Rebels are one of the three a Capella groups at our high school. The Rebels had been practicing the song Rehab, by the late Amy Winehouse, for most of this year. However, they did not end up performing it at the pep rally. The exact details of why are contested - every source I spoke to told me the same story. The administration decided that the Rebels couldn't perform Rehab, saying that it encouraged drug use, but didn't tell them this until two days before. After the rally, the administration claimed that they had told the Treble Rebels about this two weeks in advance. One of my sources suggested that the administration didn't know about the Rebels' song choice until a week before the rally. Despite the fact that this seems absurd, my investigations suggest that, in fact, this roughly what happened.
I contacted the school administration and asked for details regarding the Treble Rebels incident. Mrs. C-A responded with an explanation that makes sense and does not implicate anyone. She says that a meeting was held with the Senior student leaders on October 23rd in which the itinerary was discussed and the administration laid out standards for what constituted "appropriate". However, the administration never met directly with the Rebels, and somehow, the information that the Rebels were singing Rehab didn't make it to Mrs. C-A until November 24th, two days before the rally. She immediately forbade them from singing it. So the Rebels are telling the truth when they say that they were only told two days before the rally, but Dr. Pizzi is also telling the truth because he's referring to the October 23rd meeting. While it's nice to know that this was an accidental misunderstand, I noted again that Mrs. C-A never really apologized for anything in this message either.
According to an anonymous source within the Rebels, the group is outraged that they were forbidden from singing Rehab. My source told me that she found is strange that the Rebels were forbidden to sing Rehab, while the Bomb Squad were allowed to "shake their butts to Anaconda. For those who are not aware, the Bomb Squad is not our school's official terrorist group - that would be the [club name here]. From what I can gather, the Bomb Squad is essentially the black cheerleading team. Why we have a separate black cheerleading team in 2014 is simply beyond me. Anaconda is a collection of sounds by Nicki Minaj that, for reasons I cannot fathom, is sometimes mistaken for music. As research for this article, I listened to Anaconda - do not worry, I expect the bleeding from my ears to subside shortly. I can definitely see what the Rebels meant about a double standard.
Confession: I wrote those jokes before I had actually listened to the song - good thing too, the only thing I can say now is "Jesus fucking christ, this kind of shit exists?" There is NOTHING in that collection of discordant sounds that is school appropriate. My earlier reaction of "I can definately see what the Rebels meant about a double standard." doesn't cut it. There aren't words for what a double standard this is. Wow.
Other students have also expressed anger at the administration's decision to censor the Rebels. A classmate who, while he never technically declined to be named, I suspect would prefer anonymity, told me that "If the administration submitted their interpretation of Rehab to Freshman Honors English (For those who are not aware, at our school, 'Honors' means 'Standard; I haven't the faintest clue why), they might just manage a passing grade." I have to agree here - the decision to censor Rehab was silly - I have no idea why they thought this was a good idea.
Everyone who attended the pep rally knows what happened there. The video was shown - heavily censored and with the ending cut off entirely - and the student body responded. The chants of "Bullshit! Bullshit!" (One of my sources reports "push it! push it!", but I remember "Bullshit!") clearly offended the administration. Following the return from thanksgiving break, the administration responded. I contacted Dr. Pizzi and requested a transcript of his announcement, but apparently no transcript exists. Dr. Pizzi did, however, kindly summarize what he said in the announcement. He summarized the messages as
- Much of the beginning of the pep rally was very positive.
- Despite our best planning efforts, as the rally went on, the behavior of many students - mostly spectators and some participants - became egregious to the point of defiling our NHS home and violating our core values.
- Consequently, the professional staff and I would be taking a deep and detailed look at the purpose, function, and existence of the pep rally in its current form to determine the future of the rally as a positive aspect of life at NHS.
I remember the speech as being slightly more condescending tone, but the message seems consistent. In the weeks following the pep rally, the administration held multiple meetings. Throughout the various meetings, Dr. Pizzi made it clear that there would be no more pep rally videos, describing the subject as "non-negotiable". He has not, however, made this clear to the general public or to me in our correspondences. This is not to say that everyone in the school doesn't already know that the pep rally videos are at an end - they do - but it would be nice if Dr. Pizzi had said this outright.
By all accounts the end of the videos is not, for the most part, a result of the incident this year. Deep Throat, TJW, and Hobbes have all told me that Dr. Pizzi has wanted to get rid of the pep rally video for years. Whether this year's kerfuffle was the last straw or an excuse is anyone's guess, but I do wish that Dr. Pizzi had told us all this openly.
When I contacted Dr. Pizzi for his opinion, he told me that. When I first asked Dr. Pizzi for a statement about the pep rally, he responded with this:
[E]very student activity - including the pep rally - must be and uplifting and respectful display of school spirit for each and every member of the school community. When that is not the case, we need to examine the activity and its purpose to ensure that it aligns with our core values. This is exactly what the professional staff and I will do with the pep rally moving forward.
I appreciate that he took the time to respond, but I have trouble finding any real meaning in that statement through all the buzzwords.
The recent years have seen the emergence of a new buzzword: "Cultural Proficiency". The Administration's goal of fostering Cultural Proficiency is hampered by the fact that no one is entirely sure what cultural proficiency actually means. The American Association of Family Physicians, whose website is the first result for a Google search of "Cultural Proficiency", gives the following definition of 'Cultural Proficiency':
Cultural proficiency is the knowledge, skills, and attitudes and beliefs that enable people to work well with, respond effectively to, and be supportive of people in cross-cultural settings.
However, while this definition does seem accurate - it meshes well with the other Google results - it doesn't seem to fit with the administration's policies regarding the pep rally. According to Deep Throat, "okay well the admin is against to things: sexual innuendos and drug references or at least that's what was communicated to me at first [...] however, this has extended to other areas as well they were also against any quips about specific individuals." Deep Throat kindly gave me this email that ze received from Mrs. C-A, where she listed the things that had to be cut from the video. For security reasons, I can't quote the email directly. Deep Throat was told to, among other things, delete any comments or jokes relating to Dr. Pizzi's stature, delete the joke about Regina's name, delete or heavily change the English department scene, and any comments about staff or students.
From what I can tell, none of these things have anything to do with 'cultural proficiency'. I am, as always, open to listening to an explanation from the administration, but it seems that the administration doesn't know what 'cultural proficiency' means either.
The scene with the male student in a tank top makes slightly more sense from a "cultural proficiency" standpoint, but the cut has been universally seen as hypersensitive. As I myself am not transgender, I contacted a friend who blogs about her experience as an MTF transgender high-school student at The Trans Teen. After I showed her the video and asked her opinion, she responded,
i dont see the issue
like people are allowed to wear what they want to wear
if they're not trans then it's called "crossdressing"
Deep Throat said that "i understand the reasoning, even though that wasn't the intent of the joke", but zir bigger complaint was that, as I already mentioned, this edit came the day before the rally. Despite zir ambivalence about the 'transphobic' scene being cut, Deep Throat told me that 'cultural proficiency' was the crux of the matter.
i feel like the big issue is that these administrators, who are decent people, are more focused on the threat of lawsuits or possibly offending someone than the wellbeing of the actual students
this applies to what happened with the treble rebels
it's almost as if the admin. cares more about that hypothetical freshman who has laywers for parents and most likely doesn't exist than actual students
A Senior Show
My two main sources in the Student Government both told me that a major problem with the pep rally is that Dr. Pizzi thinks it's currently a "Senior show", and wants to change that. Hobbes added that "Dr. Pizzi hates that it is a 'senior show' Though even underclass men I talk to acknowledge that that is kind of the point". I have a different take; in my view, the calls for "inclusiveness" are undermined by the fact that, if it isn't a senior show, the Pep Rally is centered on the football team. While a celebration of sports at our school would not be objectionable, it seems strange that the administration has chosen to focus so heavily on what may be the single most destructive behavior practiced by students at this school. I'm not going to go into my full football rant (If you want to learn more - and you should - watch League of Denial. It's well worth your time), but even putting aside the dangers of football, it is by no means the most successful sport at our school. I don't know the exact numbers, but many of our teams - fútbol in particular, routinely do better than the football team. If viewed exclusively through the context of athletics, as Dr. Pizzi apparently wishes, the pep rally is almost exclusively a celebration of football. I, for one, would prefer a "senior show" - a time to say, "This is who we are. This is our culture. This is where we've been together, and we're all better people from this journey."
Anger at the Administration
Whatever the causes of the pep rally debacle, there is one thing that the student body and the administration can agree on: The student body is pissed. Hashemi, who was very prominent in the video, said "That they haven't censored these types of things in the past, we came up with and have been exposed to these types of jokes before and they're eliminating them from the video isn't going to shelter us from that."
Don Mahogany, a student council member who was fine with me using his name, said that "I'm extremely disappointed in the administration's response to the pep rally. I thought that Pizzi telling the student body that they had displayed a profound lack of cultural proficiency was extremely offensive and alienating. I understand why the administration is upset. But their solution to the problem is turning the entire student body against them which sucks for everyone." Hobbes said that "It doesn't feel like they appreciate our point of view or concerns", which seems to me to be a very good summary of how the student body feels at the moment. Hobbes told me that the pep rally incident is indicative of a larger problem. "overall," he told me, "there are lots of instances of administrators talking with kids who are in trouble, sometimes over made up rules (I am thinking of a case where someone told me of athletes getting suspended for actions that, in the handbook, weren't among the specified actions that led to suspensions), and hardly allow the student to speak for themsleves"
Deep Throat connected the administration's over-sensitivity with an incident a few months ago where Student News aired a humorous piece poking fun at the freshman class (I would post a link, but it's been pulled from the website) It was by far the funniest thing ever to come out of Student News that did not involve Aaron Traylor. From what I can gather, the administration went ballistic. Deep Throat said of the desperate apology,
it was a result of faculty members who thought the freshman would feel left out
more than that. they thought it was actually destructive
and as a result, the creator of that segment, [name redacted] (a really sweet kid) was almost demonized
her work was described as hateful
and i doubt a single freshman card
The whole Student News debacle - the harmless joking, administration freakout, and overactive apology - symbolizes the problem of over-sensitivity at our school. Without question, it is important that our school be a safe environment where no one is harassed or bullied. But if school is actually supposed to prepare us for real life, it can't try shield us from everything. Everyone sometimes hears statements that are somewhat offensive, but at some point, the burden falls on the recipient to shrug it off. The freshmen seem to have done just that regarding the Student News segment; I encourage the administration to follow their lead.
But over-sensitivity is not the entire problem. The administration doesn't respect the student body, and if we are to have a truly productive environment, they have to see things from our point of view, just as I have tried to see things from theirs. The condescending attitude with which the administration interacts with the student body is perhaps best illustrated by this: In my interactions with the administration, they have stated that they 'regret' some things, or that things are 'unfortunate', or apologized for failing to make it "clear from the start about the revision process and the possibility of cuts throughout", but never once have they actually apologized for their various screwups. The debacle surrounding the pep rally, and the administration's response, have created what Hobbes referred to as an "us-versus-them mentality". Call me a romantic, but I don't think it has to be this way. Meet us in the middle, respect us, and the administration might find that they have a lot to gain.
I'd like to close with something that Hobbes said.
In the end the goal of pep rally is to get the whole school united over a athletics
This year the uniting was done against administration
And that's not the kind of atmosphere anyone really wants