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Student's artwork about her own experiences taken down for being too explicit

Posted at 6:28 PM, Jun 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-14 23:12:37-04

GREENDALE — Can a piece of art go too far?

Just before summer vacation, a local school removed the art from display. Some say, it did so at the expense of the student who created it.

The piece of art in question was made by a black student at Greendale High School. It includes the "n" word and other racial slurs.

That student, who wants to remain anonymous, says the assignment was to create a poster that impacted her personally, and would create conversation. Her teacher approved it, but school administrators took hers down. Then they removed all of the student posters.

In a statement the student artist says, "I have been called the "n" word several times. I have also witnessed students of color being treated unfairly at Greendale High School. I wanted my art work to be the voice of students of color who
feel invisible. I wanted the students to see how ugly the words being thrown around the school are, and how it impacts everyone."

Nat Godley is among dozens of parents who created the group P.A.G.E. - Parents Advocating for Greendale Equity.

"They're not willing to first listen to the voices of black students and parents, and other students and parents of color," Godley said about the Greendale School District.

According to Greendale High School's Principal Steve Lodes, and the Superintendent of Greendale Schools, Gary Kiltz, the problem with the art project was how it was displayed without context.

They sent this email to parents on June 5th:

"Greendale Schools takes the responsibility to create and maintain an appropriate learning environment for all students very seriously. The social and emotional health of our entire community is an important component of our overall
safety and a priority for our school district.

Today at Greendale High School, students in an advanced art class completed their final projects, with one of the allowable genres being to create a visual display that would point out stereotypes and allow viewers to engage in discourse. Students then posted their artwork in school display cases. All of the art pieces that were publicly displayed were done so without sufficient explanation about the assignment’s context and purpose, creating uncertainty and unease about the topics being displayed in the hallway. All of the art pieces have been taken down until the appropriate context is given for the display.

One student’s visual project dealt with stereotypes and racism, and included racial slurs that are NOT appropriate in our learning environment. As soon as this piece was brought to administration’s attention, after about 90 minutes on display, it was promptly removed. These words have the potential to create substantial disruption within the school. Students questioned its presence, and we received questions and concerns from community members who became aware of its display within the school. While this piece will be accepted as a finished piece for the assignment, it will not be publicly displayed.

The messages contained on this art are upsetting, especially in light of the work our District does to build a culture and community of acceptance, inclusion and understanding in our schools. Greendale Schools continues to make equity work, including cultural competence and responsive practices, a part of its core improvement work. The District continues to be engaged in cultural competency work and professional development for staff, and we continue to be committed to this work.

Please contact us with any questions or concerns regarding this matter."

After other incidents this past year involving claims of racism, the Greendale School District increased staff training.

In this case, Godley and many other parents believe there should have been a bigger conversation with students before any art projects were removed.

"We need to work hard and have those uncomfortable conversations to fix this," Godley said. "To make our schools and communities welcome to all."

Today's TMJ4 called the Greendale Superintendent's office about this matter, but have not heard back as of the time of this posting.