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Yearbook Reprint Stirs Controversy

By Will Foster ’20, Justin Powell ’19, and Paw Print Staff

Principal Timothy Devine on May 29 announced that Payton would reprint its 2018-19 yearbooks at a cost of more than $22,000 after the revelation that several students had been pictured making the “OK” hand gesture — a once-innocuous symbol that has been usurped by hate groups in recent months.

“There is no reason to believe that the use of the symbol was anything but innocent fun,” Devine wrote in a school-wide email. “[But] our school resources and official publication will not be the home to symbology that is now being associated with white supremacy.”

The hand gesture in question — in which the thumb and index finger touch to form a circle while other fingers remain outstretched — appeared in six photographs in the yearbook, Devine said. He noted that the symbol had frequently been used this year at Payton and elsewhere as part of the “Circle Game,” in which “a person makes the ‘OK’ sign with their hand and holds it below their waist. The simple goal is to get someone to look at the gesture.”

Devine added that “[t]he students in the images, the photographers, and students who have actively played the game throughout the year represent a broad cross-section of racial backgrounds, genders, ages, religions, and clubs/activities.” Yet “we cannot subject a small handful of our students to potential targeting, now or in the future, for having innocently used this symbol in a game,” he wrote.

The new yearbooks will be distributed to seniors over the summer, and to other students at an unspecified later time. In early June, in lieu of yearbooks, Payton passed out signature booklets for students to collect notes from friends before they leave for summer break.

“The financial cost is significant, especially as we are an under-resourced school in an under-resourced district, but it is a cost we must bear,” Devine wrote. “Values matter.”

He said funds would be gathered by delaying yearbook class technology purchases, cutting admissions activity costs, and reducing summer administrative programs.

Students had mixed reactions to the decision. Most acknowledged that the yearbook should not have been published without any changes, but many wondered whether a cheaper fix than reprinting all the books could have been found.

The following is a sampling of Payton students’ reactions to the yearbook reprinting:

“I think the idea behind it was good, but they did spend a lot of money on it. There’s a lot of ways [to look at it] … [Devine] also said we were an underfunded school, which is clearly not true.” – Ema Takahashi ‘19

“I think especially as a school that has had incidents in the past … of actions that represent white supremacy, this shouldn’t be something included in a yearbook that represents us, our school, and the culture we want as a community.” – Nina Li ‘19

“Administration was put in a very tricky position, but I think that the situation was handled in the best way possible. However, there are always going to be people who won’t be satisfied. I appreciate that administration took action to protect the reputation of its students and their futures.” – Sam Brody ‘20

“I feel like this didn’t have to be such a big incident and then administration made it one. I don’t think spending $22,000 was a necessary solution, but they did make the tough decision to ban the circle symbol game in the yearbook.” – Gage Gerding ‘20

”We don’t know what that hand symbol could grow to represent down the line. It may just go back to meaning nothing. Or it could become a universal symbol for white power in America, over the next 10-20 years. So to not only uphold what we want to represent as a school but also to protect the futures of those pictured doing it in the yearbook, I think the administration is doing the right thing.” – Jabari Chiphe ‘20

“I think it’s a good call. It’s a negative symbol that our school doesn’t want to be associated with and those kids [flashing the sign] don’t want to be associated with either.” – Max Wilkey ‘19

“I think Mr. Devine’s decision to send a school-wide email was a good move, because it informed the student body of a symbol that many of us did not know about prior to the email.” – Mason Wicklander ‘19

“Whether the intention is bad or not, the yearbook is used as a historical piece. If that is something that becomes a white power symbol, looking back on it would be shameful for our school. They didn’t need to reprint — there were other things that could have been done other than spending money on yearbooks.” – Anonymous ‘20

“I don’t think [Mr. Devine] needed to include the amount paid for the yearbooks … I think including it caused unnecessary discussion about the yearbook delays.” – Ryan Trotter ‘19

“I think [the reprinting] had good intentions, but I began to question it when I saw it aired on the news. Is this a publicity stunt? Because there are other problematic situations that have happened here that have not been handled properly, but because this one situation was going to be aired on the news, we were comfortable spending $22,000 to fix it. I’d like to see the same energy for all our issues.” – Ketandu Chiedu ‘19

”I think that if anything the funds could’ve gone to something more important and they could’ve just crossed or cut out the hand sign.” – Anonymous ‘20

“I think it’s stupid because no one that I’ve talked to has said that that is a real thing and everyone is on the same page that the sign means ‘OK.’ They’re actually messing with our senior year because now how are we going to get our yearbooks signed? And they just wasted $20,000.” – Talha B. ‘19

“I think it’s a shame that white people in power have the ability to take common gestures and reappropriate them to mean something racist.” – Kate Wehrenberg ‘19

“It’s a good start to address the issue of the game not being okay. Growing up I played the game all the time and never knew what it meant and if I did I would never have played it.” – Anonymous ‘20

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