Is This Middle School Yearbook Cover Offensive? One Oregon School Isn’t Taking the Chance

Statesman Journal

Statesman Journal

A middle school student in Salem, Oregon had her art featured on the school yearbook only to have the honor ripped away from her months later. Officials were concerned 13-year-old Auzeen Seiffert’s image would offend the community.

 

Judson Middle School principal Alicia Kruska told the Statesman Journal Auzeen entered a contest for the memory book cover design last fall and won. It embraced the “Life is Sweet” theme and featured “two friends playing in a Candyland-like park,” Auzeen said, noting the board game inspired the image.

The friends are one white-looking character riding on the back ride of a seemingly Black friend with blue hair, walking along the sidewalk passing cotton candy covered trees and giant candy canes.

“I see it as just two kids playing,” Auzeen told SJ. “Not two kids of color.”

But adults saw the image as just that. And that was a problem.

Staff expressed concerns about offending others with the cover. Kruska, who acknowledged the image printed deeper than the original sketch, sent a copy to Matt Biondi, the Salem-Keizer School District’s director of middle school education. He and other district employees came to the conclusion that the image would be disrespectful to the community in general.

Just a few days before the end of the school year, the young teen’s cover was removed and replaced with another student’s artwork.

Statesman Journal

Statesman Journal

“Let me make it clear that we absolutely don’t think the child did anything wrong. We know that she had no intent and that it was innocently done,” Biondi said to the newspaper. “There was worry that it might be misinterpreted. We try to make sure when we’re conveying something to the community that it be the most respectful to the widest audience.”

But Auzeen’s brother, Shaheen Seiffert disagrees with the reasoning. The 23-year-old  Chemeketa Community College student says it is a case of adults projecting their prejudices onto a child.

“She has been drawing since she was four, and she also won a contest when she was at Wright Elementary School,” Shaheen told the publication. “She’s very good and we’ve had to keep her in colored pencils, paper and other drawing tools since as long as I can remember. She loves it, and this has just made her so sad.”

Others in the community agree, including local art consultant and gallery owner Mary Lou Zeek.

“I see nothing offensive in this drawing,” Zeek said. “I see it as free expression, which is what art is supposed to be. Poor girl; once you start shutting these children down, it’s difficult to come back.”

But Benny C. Williams, president of the Salem Keizer chapter of the NAACP, sided with the school district.

“If the portrayal had been a black child and a white child holding hands, it’d be what we hope for, all children playing together. But given the stark colors now, it hearkens back to an uncomfortable time when blacks were depicted as subservient,” Williams said.

Auzeen is not completely discouraged by the situation, though. She says she will try again when she enters eighth grade. Still, she told SJ she is “pretty upset right now. I really don’t understand when everyone liked it so much. I mean, everyone loved it.”

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