Although the alternative rock group Weezer reintroduced the song “Africa” this year to a generation of fans unaware of the 1982 classic by the artist Toto, knowledge about the actual continent was called into question at Burroughs High School this week.
On Wednesday, the student-government entity called the Associated Student Body, or ASB, canceled a planned African-themed event, where students were encouraged to dress like people who live in that region of the world, during its fall Spirit Week due to perceived insensitivity by event organizers.
The Burroughs ASB coordinates many campus events, such as dances, blood drives and spirit weeks throughout the year.
This school year’s first Spirit Week, which began Monday and ends Friday, had the theme “Around the World in a Week,” and ASB members asked students to dress a certain way for different areas of the world.
Students wore white for Monday’s Antarctica Day and plaid to represent Scotland on Tuesday.
However, an issue arose for Wednesday’s Africa Day, in which students were encouraged to wear safari clothing, camouflage gear or animal print.
A pair of comments received Monday evening and Tuesday morning, respectively, criticized the planning and lack of diversity in the event. The comments were added to a post promoting the event by an ASB-run Instagram account.
The first statement on the now-deleted post allegedly came from a Burroughs parent of African descent and said, “Telling students to wear animal paint and camouflage is very racist and depicts what white Americans thought of blacks in the early 1900s, as animals.”
The comment added that African-American students should have been involved in the decision-making process.
The second response came from a Burroughs student who stated, “I don’t know if you guys wanted to include all cultures, but if animal paint and camo is all you can think of, then just don’t make it a Spirit Day.”
By Tuesday afternoon, the school’s ASB issued an apology on its Twitter account, but not on Instagram.
The statement included a mea culpa and explanation beginning with, “We would like to apologize if any offense was taken in regards to the spirit day. It was not our intention to make any student or group feel uncomfortable.”
Thursday’s Hawai’i Day, where students wore Hawaiian or tacky tourist outfits, and Burroughs Day on Friday, which featured red clothing, were not changed.
Robyn Anders, Burroughs assistant principal of athletics and activities, said he was only aware of those two comments, but supported pulling the plug on the African event.
“The point of our ASB and our student body is to help make every kid feel included and make our campus an inclusive environment,” Anders said. “If we get some feedback like this about one of the activities they have planned, we’re going to make a change, cancel or postpone it until we can make sure it’s not doing the opposite of what our goal is.”
While Anders said he understands the viewpoint of the commenters, he did take umbrage with the claim of a lack of African-American representation.
“I feel that is unfair, our ASB is a diverse group of students,” he said.
Planning for Spirit Week went back months, and the themes were announced by new student-body president Megan Rangel-Lynch to the Burbank Unified school board during an Aug. 16 meeting without any controversy.