The sounds of synchronized chants, passionate cheering and the swish of pom-poms filled the air in a sea of white, purple and gold. Beneath the madness, school spirit and competition mounted to a climax between the four classes, highlighting the excitement the annual Homecoming Rally brought to the student body.
Homecoming week consists of activities ranging from competitive games to skits. Since 2016, the senior girls’ dance has been a critical component of the rally. Seniors who participate in this dance volunteer to dedicate their time to lunch and after school rehearsals for three months, starting in late August. This year, the senior girls’ hard work paid off when they won the dance category in their skit after competing against the other classes.
However, the class of 2019 lost first place to the juniors. And as the class of 2020 rushed onto the stage to celebrate their victory, groups of seniors could be seen crying and leaning on each others’ shoulders for comfort. They knew this feeling well — the class of 2020 had beat them for third place in the 2016 Homecoming rally and they lost to them again in the 2017 Welcome Back rally.
But the disappointment and culmination of losses over the years soon turned into statements of support and appreciation for the work that the senior class had put in to make the rally a success. Eventually, the discussion and conflict surrounding the Homecoming results died down, until the tumultuous day of Saturday, Oct. 13.
Three days after the Homecoming rally, senior Keara Jacques posted the following statement in a Facebook post, claiming that assistant principal and leadership teacher Mike White used the term “skanky hoes” to refer to the senior girls’ attire.
“I’m disgusted to hear that the Assistant Principal and leadership head of MVHS called the senior girl’s dance group ‘skanky hoes’ for their attire: black athletic shorts, tank tops, and an oversized baseball jersey,” Jacques’ statement read. “Why are the [water polo] boys allowed to partake in a speedo run to the song ‘Sexy and I Know It’, but the girls are verbally abused for significantly less provocative outfits? This is reprehensible, teenage girls are not sexual objects and deserve a school environment where they are treated with respect and encouraged to show school spirit.”
The post garnered over 300 Facebook likes and reactions, with both alumni and current MVHS students sharing their input and voicing their support for Jacques. Widely circulated on Facebook and shared in private group chats, the post inevitably reached leadership students, who scrambled to keep a lid on the situation.
According to Jacques, some even requested that she take the post down, at least until the Associated Student Body (ASB) had a chance to discuss the situation with White. Jacques declined their offer, as the post remains on Facebook.
The leadership students then decided to clarify the incident, believing that Jacques’ post inaccurately portrayed the context under which White made the statement. One senior who was in the senior girls’ dance, who will be referred to as Beth to protect her identity, stated that Jacques was not present at the skit and therefore did not hear White say the phrase ‘skanky hoes.’ However, Beth confirmed that the incident did occur, just under different circumstances.
“[Jacques] published a version, like something that she thought happened, but that wasn’t the full truth,” Beth said.
Beth specified that White said the aforementioned words when conversing with two other leadership students, who declined to comment on the matter. She says that White used the term “skanky hoes” when telling 2019 class officers to make sure the senior girls’ jerseys were open so people could see the clothes underneath and not view them in an inappropriate manner.
However, Beth believes that that context does not justify White’s actions, and she does not approve of his behavior. She adds that while White’s actions were wrong, his comments cannot possibly encapsulate the underlying cause of the issue — the double standards and over-sexualization of girls.
Additionally, MVHS principal Ben Clausnitzer believes that context should not excuse White’s actions. On Monday evening, the students’ discussion about this incident on social media was brought to his attention.
“I suppose the reality is that context is not an excuse. What occurred from an administrator on campus was not okay — it was inappropriate,” Clausnitzer said. “While [he was] trying to protect kids, he did it in a poor way.”
Since the post on Saturday, Oct.13, White has given public apologies to three groups — his leadership class and the senior girls’ dance group on Tuesday, and to the MVHS staff on Thursday.
Clausnitzer was present at both the apology to the senior girls and to the staff. White and Clausnitzer planned how to address the school about this incident. According to Clausnitzer, White told him that White himself wanted to address the student body and that they needed to hear it from him. Thus, the public apologies followed.
While White declined to comment directly on the issue, he submitted a written statement.
“I am sincerely sorry for the language that I used when speaking of students during their preparation for their performance during Homecoming Week,” White wrote. “While what I said may have come from a place of concern, I should have expressed that concern very differently. Upon realizing my error in judgement, I apologized directly to the students involved, my leadership class and the Monta Vista staff. I hold myself to the same standard that I hold each student and adult in our community. And so, when I have made a mistake, I take responsibility and work towards repairing the relationships affected.”
Although Jacques’ post ignited conversation and controversy, this behavior seemed familiar to a MVHS leadership alumnus, who will be referred to as Lily. Lily graduated in 2017 and was a part of leadership for three years.
It is from her past experience with White that Lily says this recent incident was not uncharacteristic of White. What surprised her was the fact that Jacques, a mere high school student, was brave enough to address the problem, and that people actually cared. Lily admits that had she still been in MVHS, she likely would not have taken action.
“I wasn’t surprised at all, like at all, at all … After having been in that class for three years, I was really like, [Jacques]’s right,” Lily said. “This was definitely [something] I had never considered was wrong. I was just so used to him.”
“This was definitely [something] I had never considered was wrong. I was just so used to him,” Lily said.
Many students, including Beth and Lily, believe this incident is part of a bigger social problem involving double standards and misogyny. A senior who was part of the senior girls’ dance this year, who will be referred to as Kerry to protect her identity, appreciates that White was willing to admit his shortcoming and engage in a face-to-face apology. However, she notes that the situation is not an anomaly nor is it entirely unexpected — in her eyes, it is more than a “Mr. White thing.”
“We [girls] are so used to being policed about our outfits and what dance moves we do,” Kerry said. “There’s always such a double standard.”
Kerry specifically says she sees the double standard in the fact that every year, the water polo boys run through the schools in speedos unpoliced, while girls receive derogatory comments about their outfits. She also notes that this double standard extends beyond just Homecoming. Often, Kerry has teachers comment on her clothes, such as her ripped jeans. She says one of her friends was even pulled out of class one time while taking a test in order to discuss her clothing choice.
“That’s not an appropriate way to handle it … regardless of what [my friend] was wearing, at the end of the day, school is the most important thing, but it sometimes doesn’t feel that way,” Kerry said. “Why couldn’t you [have] told me that [my clothing is inappropriate] when it doesn’t interrupt school because the only person losing school time is the person who’s wearing the clothing.”
“Why couldn’t you [have] told me that [my clothing is inappropriate] when it doesn’t interrupt school because the only person losing school time is the person who’s wearing the clothing,” Kerry said.
Both Beth and Lily agree that this double standard exists — and not just in MVHS, but in society at large. Lily, in particular, believes that comments like these are results of social norms and narratives, and that “while it may not be White’s fault that he lives in a society that has taught him to think this way, he has unfortunately become the symbol for institutional misogyny in this scenario.” After three years in leadership working closely with him, Lily believes that White didn’t intend to be sexist, but nevertheless, she believes it is important that he reconsider his actions.
“I think that when you’re in a job that’s working with students, you really need to think of the ways in which your words are going to affect them,” Lily said.
When asked if White plans to do more in regards to amending the situation, Clausnitzer did not have an exact answer.
“I think that it’s still very recent and in terms of responding, obviously we wanted to respond quickly and I know that he felt that needed to work with those and address those who were involved, publically with those folks and he’s done that,” Clausnitzer said. “Will there be more [action such as White’s apologies]? I don’t know if I necessarily have an answer to that.”
As Lily starts her sophomore year of college, she is still close to her friends and advisors from leadership. She recalls that through rough times in her life, White was supportive of her and showed a lot of empathy and understanding.
“He is a good person at the heart of it all,” Lily said.
As an administrator, she believes he should engage in more self-reflection.
“I think [he needs to] reflect on those boundaries and set them a little more firmly as well as sort of also do some introspection in regards to how he views the female body and how he views the male body and just how he views his students in general,” Lily said. “You guys are so young. If someone else is telling you to be ashamed of your body, you kind of don’t understand yet that you maybe shouldn’t be. And I know that there are a lot of times in high school where I felt ashamed of my body because other people told me to be. And now you look back and it’s just so frustrating because it’s definitely just so wrong.”
Additional reporting by Claire Chang, Iman Malik and Oishee Misra.