On Monday, October 1st, Brooklyn Technical High School senior Brianna Payne posted several flyers advertising the school’s Progressive Student Awareness club around campus. The posters, which were approved by the school’s coordinator of student activities, invited students to “talk about” several political issues, including women’s reproductive rights. One featured the phrase “My vagina, my rules.”
By Tuesday, the posters had been taken down. In search of an explanation, Payne contacted Joseph Kaelin, the teacher who originaly approved them. “He told me that the principal and a couple of the assistant principals saw the posters and they were like, ‘We don’t like them. They’re inappropriate,'” Payne told ANIMAL. “He told me that he agreed with us, and he thought what we were doing was correct, but he couldn’t do anything about it.”
According to Laura Marquez, Brooklyn Tech Assistant Principal of Parent and Student Engagement, the head of school safety and security first saw the “my vagina” posters and brought them to the administration’s attention, and after some deliberation, administrators decided to remove them. Marquez said the board objected to both the posters’ “sensationalism” and their lack of information about Progressive Student Alliance meetings.
It’s unclear whether the posters were actually in violation of any school or Department of Education policies. When asked, Marquez cited passage from Brooklyn Tech’s dress code: “Clothing should not be distracting or offensive to other members of the Brooklyn Tech community,” and “Clothing that degrades religion, race, or sexuality, and clothing that promotes alcohol, drug use, or offensive language is prohibited.”
Marquez concedes that dress code may not necessarily cover posters and flyers, but argues that, “some of the content–if students are hanging it on a poster or wearing it on a t-shirt,” the principle is the same. According to Marquez, the administration objected to “potentially offensive content, because [it] felt the students were just going for shock value, as opposed to informational.”
So the two-pronged question at hand is: whether, A) the dress code can be extended to cover things students aren’t actually wearing on their bodies, and, B) whether the word “vagina” is “distracting or offensive” to other members of the school community. The Department of Education has not responded to our request for comment as of press time.
Payne believes that the politics of school administrators came into play. “That’s just their position,” she said. “I don’t think they’re really for women’s rights, or reproductive rights.” Marquez, however, insists that’s not the case. “[Personal politics] did not come into account,” said the administrator. “The poster was passed around to a room of about a dozen administrators, and no person said, ‘Well, you know, lets give them a shot.’ Everybody was shaking their heads, or various degrees of annoyed and offended.”
Whatever the case, Payne stands by her decision to post the images “I think it’s a big deal. This is something that women should be deciding on,” she said. “I was really upset when they took down my posters, because in my school, we don’t talk about these things that often at all. We don’t really have those discussion. It’s something that everyone should be involved in and working together on, because these things are big issues.”