OP-ED: Lack of Clarity in PMHS Assemblies

Maeve Parmelee, Senior, News Editor

Assemblies at PMHS, while having the best intentions, have been declining in quality as well as substance in recent years. This became evident at the most recent assembly in which most would think the purpose was to discuss hate crimes after the “n” word that had been discovered in one of the boys’ bathrooms in the high school. Instead, the assembly focussed on generalities, often leaving the audience more  confused than informed.

During the 2018-2019 school year, an assembly was given by Assistant District Attorney, Susan Brownbill-Vega to the current sophomores and juniors in an attempt to be proactive about the general rise in hate crimes at high schools in the United States. It was the administration’s goal to curtail the hate-based actions and language that could potentially find their way to PMHS. Despite their best efforts, three hate crimes were reported in the district since the start of the school year. About two weeks after the vandalism of the PMHS bathroom, it was announced that the current freshmen and seniors would have an assembly regarding hate crimes. It seemed like a great idea and a strong step to address a serious issue. Clearly, the students of PMHS needed to be educated on the severity of the action that had taken place and the utter wrongfulness of writing such a foul racial slur anywhere, let alone on school property. However, it was simply a repeat of the assembly that was given to the current sophomores and juniors a year prior nearly verbatim, with little or no focus on the actual incidents that occurred at Pelham since the last, evidently ineffective, assembly.

This wasn’t the administration’s only misstep though. Their second mistake was giving this assembly the day before February break, since many students had started their vacations early. In fact, some students had already left on an administration-sanctioned trip to Italy. So, why would the administration plan, arguably, one of the most important assemblies on a day when a large number of the student body wouldn’t be present? 

This, in itself, would have been a bad call; what made it worse, however, was the content of the assembly itself. District Attorney Brownbill-Vega began by calling on students in the audience to guess what they thought her ethnicity was. Though undoubtedly this was a means of getting students to recognize that hate crimes are not merely perpetuated against people of an actual “protected class” but those whom are perceived to be different, this was an awkward way of doing this. It was at this point when many began to feel uncomfortable. One girl responded that Brownbill-Vega’s ethnicity was “a lawyer,” a humorous response to an extremely uncomfortable question that had a large amount of potentially “wrong” answers. Another quick-thinking answer came from a boy who said “a woman” in response to the same question. At this answer, Brownbill-Vega diverged from the topic of hate crimes into the topic of transgender rights. As she rambled, it quickly became apparent to anyone who was listening that this subject wasn’t her specialty. Senior Julia O’Neil said, ”When she started talking about transgender issues, it seemed out of place and a little misinformed.”

Brownbill-Vega continued calling on students, often responding to their answers with a sardonic laugh. Mocking one’s audience is probably not the best method of informing or persuading.  It seemed as though Brownbill-Vega wasn’t even using the PowerPoint that she had prepared as she randomly flipped back and forth between the slides and didn’t ever reference them and her words seemed to lack any and all substance. Brownbill-Vega gave the audience scenarios of potential hate crimes and had us guess whether or not we thought they were considered hate crimes. Examples that seemed ridiculous continued to pop up, none of which had anything to do with the actual hate crimes that had occurred in our district. Even after attempting to guess whether or not the scenarios were considered a hate crime, she failed to coherently explain the reasoning behind the answer. O’Neil said, “I think the assembly really missed the mark. Talking about if hate is considered a hate crime isn’t the best way to go about it—the most informative assembly would inform students on the history of these words or terms and how hurtful they can be.” Many came out of the assembly more confused than when they came into the auditorium. 

This assembly had a lot of potential to take the right step in addressing the slur that was written in the bathroom, however it failed to do so. When addressing serious issues that need to be discussed, perhaps the administration needs to follow the same procedures it asks of its students: draft a presentation, proofread and revise it, and make sure the final draft is effective in accomplishing the goal it sets out to do!