A banner featuring a collage of photos of Yorktown High School seniors was intended to celebrate the class of 2020, but instead it is being decried as racist.
The banner has since been removed and Yorktown’s principal has apologized, after the controversy blew up on social media yesterday. At issue: the banner uses class photos to form an image of the Yorktown logo, but singles out students of color to create the black outline of the logo.
“I thoroughly don’t understand how Yorktown put forth such a racist banner,” said one student in a social media post. “I understand they were trying to do something nice for the seniors, but the execution was horrible. [People of color] shouldn’t be the outline and there are better ways to highlight the Y.”
“They really used us as the shading cmon now,” said another.
An Arlington Public Schools spokesman said the banner was generated by computer software that creates composite images using hundreds of individual photos, grouped to correspond with colors in the background image.
“A computer program grouped and placed senior portraits over an image of the front of the school and the YHS logo,” said Frank Bellavia. “The printer sent a proof to the school by email, so it was difficult to see how the photos were placed to create image.”
Yorktown principal Kevin Clark said in an email to students and parents that “upon realizing our oversight, we immediately removed the banner and notified the printing company of this issue.”
“This banner does not appropriately reflect our graduating class or our values, and we sincerely apologize to any student who felt offended or marginalized,” Clark said. “We do not condone any activity or imagery that offends our students.”
The outgoing co-editor-in-chief of the Yorktown Sentry student newspaper reported on the controversy via Twitter last night.
Yoni Yohannes, an African American senior who noted the shading on his Instagram story earlier today, said it is “covering [students of color’s] faces and is showing the white students in the light.” Yohannes also said he finds the banner “shocking and disappointing.”
— Joseph Ramos (@joseph_ramos2) May 20, 2020
The banner also does not include all members of the class, but repeats the photos of certain students.
— Joseph Ramos (@joseph_ramos2) May 20, 2020
Yorktown is the least diverse of Arlington’s high schools, with non-white students accounting for about a third of the student body.
The full letter from Clark is below.
Dear Yorktown Community,
Thank you to those of you who reached out with concerns about the banner that was posted in front of Yorktown High School this week. I want you to know that this banner was intended to celebrate the Class of 2020. While we did not create this banner, we did review it and did not recognize that the background photo unintentionally grouped students by colors in their photos. Therefore, it appears that our students of color seem to make up the darker areas of the photo. Upon realizing our oversight, we immediately removed the banner and notified the printing company of this issue.
This banner does not appropriately reflect our graduating class or our values, and we sincerely apologize to any student who felt offended or marginalized. We do not condone any activity or imagery that offends our students.
As we move towards graduation, we will make certain that all efforts to honor and recognize the accomplishments of this amazing Class of 2020 are in keeping with our values. Please know that we appreciate those who expressed concerns, and will continue to work towards a school community that embraces and respects all.
Yorktown High School
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