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Free-range Thoughts

Marinating in the Mooc

Scenario 5: Remington Prep’s Art Show

The Remington Prep is a Seattle private school with successful arts and athletics program, and a publicly touted record for preparing its students for admission into the most competitive colleges in the nation. Graduation requirements include participation in all programs, but students are encouraged to specialize as a means for showcasing their talents to colleges. Additionally, the school showcases excellent student work in all areas as a way to attract talented applicants, and to raise funds for Remington’s superior facilities.

A student art show is held each spring, and some student works are sold off to raise funds for Remington’s endowment; the endowment fund provides scholarships for talented students without the means to pay Remington’s high tuition. Additionally, 3 students are selected each year (based on having secured admission to a liberal arts university, or an arts school) to earn a $10,000 per year college scholarship (called the Ferry Fellowship) to study art at a prestigious collegiate arts program. The criteria for winning a Ferry Fellowship is to have created an extensive portfolio, with a special focus on exhibiting the works created during the last semester of the senior year.

Over the years, the Remington Spring Exhibit has developed from a small gathering of students and parents to a “black tie” pubic evening. The event is held in the Jasper Auditorium, and the seniors’ portfolios are left up through graduation. The Jasper Auditorium is also used for school assemblies and shows, and for some community events. Besides the large numbers of students/ parents/ faculty, attendees include college admission directors, patrons of the arts, collectors and local politicians. The exhibit has come to be regarded as an avant-garde comment on social and political issues, and has included works that some people would regard as pornographic, violent, racist, and intolerant of religion, including depictions of Jesus Christ similar to those of Serrano. The school’s support for student expression is touted in admissions literature, and is demonstrated by the school’s slogan:
At Remington Prep, we instill and nurture an unwavering commitment to Courage, Tolerance, Passion, Diversity and Innovation: Competence is Not Enough.

The exhibit opened last night. It included several cartoons by one student, Joseph Pierce depicting Mount Rushmore covered in graffiti. All of the depictions were objectionable to controversial, depending on your perspective: Some included the slogan, “Stop the Genocide – by any Means Necessary. In several of the images, the faces of Stalin, Hitler, Timothy McVeigh and Ted Bundy were superimposed over the presidents.

Other cartoons compared the US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Wounded Knee and Sand Creek Massacres; compared the Gates Foundation’s international health initiatives to the US military passing out small-pox infected blankets to Native Americans; one cartoon suggested Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Kamiakin, and Ollokot would return and blow up Portland, Seattle, Tacoma and Everett so that the region could be returned to its “Native State.” One cartoon depicts native warriors stabbing Columbus, Andrew Jackson and Uncle Sam with spears, with a caption that says “Homeland Security, since 1492.”

Many of the attendees on opening night were very disturbed by the real or perceived promotion of violence in Joseph’s cartoons, as well as the comparison of the American presidents to dictators, terrorists, rapists and murderers. Principal Ashcroft agreed that the works were offensive, violated the core values of the school, and promoted violence. He directed the removal of the artworks. John objected to the principal’s actions and argued with him about his decision. The principal took no disciplinary action against Joseph; however, a consequence of removing the artworks will be to disqualify Joseph from consideration for several college scholarships that depend on his showing his portfolio at the School Art Show, and from consideration for the Ferry Fellowship.

Several other students and faculty members were offended by the images. They have expressed their concerns to the administration and to the Arts faculty. Students and faculty have created a petition of support for Principal Ashcroft, and concern that Joseph’s art is not in keeping the school’s support for reasonable dialogue when addressing important issues of cultural and religious tolerance and diversity.

In the meantime, several students have created a Facebook Group that claims its mission is to “support free expression at Remington Prep.” Rumor has it that the chairman of the visual arts department, Mr. Floodwizer, encouraged the students to start the Facebook group, telling them it was their time to stand up for “Courage, Tolerance, Passion, Diversity and Innovation.” Students have posted photos of the disputed art works, and while most of the posts are generic statements supporting artistic freedom, some have included diatribes against “ignorant conservative tyrants and fascist administrative art critics.” A few posts have included links to other sites that a reasonable person would consider racist toward European Americans, and in response some posts have included disparaging language toward Native Americans. Although Joseph hasn’t joined the Facebook group or posted on the site, his name features prominently on its pages.

The administration has gotten wind that some of the students involved with the site are planning to blitz the outside of the school’s auditorium with graffiti, as an artistic act of civil disobedience. As a result, Joseph has been suspended indefinitely, and Principal Ashcroft is threatening to expel students whose posts on the site violate the school’s core principles. Rumor has it that Mr. Floodwizer has been warned to keep a low profile, and that he could lose his job.

Joseph wants his work shown in the auditorium, and wants to still be considered for the Ferry Fellowship. He also doesn’t understand why he’s been suspended, and he doesn’t understand why a school committed to social justice is silent on the injustices he believes Native Americans have suffered, but celebrates the MLK holiday, and regularly invites speakers to classes on the Holocaust.

The students in the Facebook group want you to join the group, and to participate in their artistic act of civil disobedience.

Principal Ashcroft wants you to tell her which students she should suspend or expel.

What do you do?

Scenario 6: GSA is Here to Stay?

Earlier this school year Cindy Grigsby and her best friend Katie Jordan started up a Gay-Straight Alliance club as an extracurricular activity at Bonhoeffer College. While the school was founded as an Episcopalian College, it doesn’t require a statement of faith from students or faculty, and it’s renowned as a small, elite liberal arts college. Most of students and families at the school could be described as liberal and secular, but there are also many students from families that are Christian, more socially conservative, and very active in their faith communities. Students are required to attend weekly chapels, and are required to take three theology courses (Survey of Biblical Literature, Christianity in the Modern World, and Faith, Values and Ethics).

In recent years, the school’s administration has continued to de-emphasize the school’s Christian background in an attempt to attract the kind of faculty talent that increases the school’s prestige, to increase the number of applicants so that the school’s US News and World Report ranking goes up, and to attract corporate donors. The college has also revised its mission statement, which now proclaims that the school is “committed to strengthening the bonds of faith by fostering a diverse student community that is committed to social justice and to spiritual renewal,” but the meaning of this statement has been the subject of some debate among all groups in the Bonhoeffer community.

Cindy and Katie are seniors and they had been working on getting the GSA club going since they were sophomores, but it took them some time to get a core group of students to sign on, overcome the hesitant reaction of the school administration, and get a faculty advisor to sponsor them. The club has grown over this school year from barely a dozen members to nearly 25. Cindy and Katie are both out as lesbians, but both have been careful to ensure that the club is open to all students regardless of their sexual identity. The GSA charter statement says that one of the purposes of the club is to support any students who are coming out or changing their sexual identity. However, on the advice of their advisor, April DeLaurenti, they have also made clear that the main goal of the club is to raise awareness about issues in the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer community, without trying to persuade any students about their personal identities, since that is strictly a matter for each individual to explore and understand.

The Founders’ Day Dance is a major event each spring at the college, and in the past couple of years there have been two couples who attended the dance and were very vocal about being out. Although a few students and adults were clearly surprised, things went smoothly and there were no problems or incidents. Cindy and Katie have been best friends since they roomed together freshman year, and with the GSA club finally off the ground, they have also announced their status as a couple and decided to go all out and use to GSA to promote a more visible presence for LGBTQ students at the Founders’ Day Dance.

With the dance just a week away, the school’s ASB put up posters around campus announcing that the dance will be held in the Reitman Student Center on Saturday night at 8:00. The GSA put up its own posters with the same info, but the GSA posters also say “Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are! Come Out at the Dance!” The GSA did not get their signs approved by the Bonhoeffer Dean of Student Life, Phil Robertson, but Ms. DeLaurenti said she would vouch for the group and assured them it would be okay. Phil Robertson has emailed Ms. DeLaurenti to let her know that he plans to require the girls to take down their signs, and that failure to do so could result in sanctions against the GSA. Some students suspect that Mr. Robertson’s handling of the matter may be influenced by the college chaplains: Luther Calvin, who is widely known to represent the “old guard” of alumni and seasoned, tenured professors on the staff; and Isaiah Lieberman, a rabbi who was added to the staff when the school decided to, according to the school’s press release upon his hiring, “recognize the shared history and values of Judaism in the western tradition, to serve the spiritual needs of the school’s Jewish students, and to promote religious tolerance on campus.”

The GSA posters have certainly gotten the attention of other students, who supported the low-key, non-confrontational approach taken by the GSA in the past. Some members of the CSC student community have not been supportive of the GSA signs for the dance. Two such students, Liz Johnson and Bill Smothers, felt the need to quickly create their own informal student group, the Straight Judeo-Christian Alliance, which already claims 27 members after being started on Facebook only a day ago. Their first official post declared their goal of preventing a “gay takeover of the dance.” The SJCA has also responded to the GSA signs with their own which read “CCC can change its mission, but the Bible is clear: if you are Gay, Please Stay Away.” In another SJCA Facebook post, Liz and Bill added that if gay students can put up posters that are meant to “turn other students gay,” then the SJCA can publicly post its own views too. As far as anyone knows, the SJCA hasn’t been sanctioned by Mr. Robertson.

The SJCA has also officially requested that Mr. Robertson suspend Cindy and Katie because the GSA signs are disruptive to the learning environment of the school and therefore require immediate disciplinary action. The school’s Islamic students are opposed to the GSA, but are angry that they haven’t been invited to join the SJCA, and they’re trying to form a coalition of students from other faith traditions to force the school to recognize their presence on campus. Members of the GSA have threatened to take down any signs put up by the SJCA.

This situation has become tenser as Liz and Bill have gone so far as to make this a school-wide issue by threatening a boycott of the dance if the administration does not take action against the GSA. In a counter move, Cindy and Katie say the GSA may also boycott the dance and even hold its own alternative dance in an art gallery a few blocks from school, or they have considered inviting the group Soulforce to campus to help further their cause. A third group is trying to form – Christians for Tolerance – but they struggling to get organized in time, especially since they can’t decide whether or not to let the Muslim students join.

To really help the GSA make its point, they have contacted the main newspaper in the metro area with the hope of getting a reporter to come to the school and interview some of the students in the GSA, which could generate some positive buzz for the group. Liz and Bill have called for prayer vigils outside both the dance and the alternative event in the art gallery.

With only a couple of days left before the dance, it isn’t clear what might happen, and now the college president plans to meet with senior school administrators to discuss cancelling the Founders’ Day Dance altogether this year as a way of diffusing the whole issue. In the interest of making sure the dance is still held, Billy Batson, the ever-temperate ASB President, has called for a truce and announced that he and the ASB officers want 4-5 more students to join them on a Committee of Cooperation. They want to craft a plan to save the dance by reaching out to all sides and offering themselves as fair mediators who can work with both of the student groups, as well as the administration, to come to a peaceful solution.

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