by Jethro Swain
On Friday April 22nd, OES held two annual events on the same day that clashed in atmosphere and tempo: Culture Shock and EVARGLOW.
During the EVARGLOW dance, towards the beginning, the clean version of the song M.A.A.D. City by Kendrick Lamar was playing. The song is very popular and was released in 2012 on Kendrick’s popular album “good kid, m.A.A.d. City.”
In the chorus of the song, Kendrick Lamar uses expletives multiple times, including the n-word, which is common in many rap songs today by African-American rappers, but was censored at the dance.
When the chorus came on, since the song is well known by the Upper School community, members of the student body began to sing the explicit lyrics of the song which included the n-word.
Senior Rowan B., who was at the dance, said of the song that “I think the way the song goes is that the way the word is censored allows an opportunity for people to realize that it’s being censored,” referring to a blatant pause that appears in place of the explicit words in the chorus.
Sophie S. said that “Probably about 60 or 70% of the people there were saying it from what I could tell,” and Amaya S. noted that “the ratio of African American students to non African-American students was so low at the dance, and the song ended up making some people leave.”
Very shortly after the first chorus, Community Board Chair Nathan C. went up on stage and made the announcement that the dance would be shut down if people continued to sing the word.
There were mixed emotions about Nathan being the one to step on stage.
Community Board Faculty Advisor Bettina Gregg said that “It was a lot more effective coming from him rather than coming from me or Jordan,” whereas Rowan felt that “it was inappropriate of Nathan to step up as a student.” Rowan felt that the incident should have been handled by a teacher instead of one of his fellow classmates.
When asked if it was particularly the n-word that caused the dance to almost be shut down, or if all expletives would have the same effect, Bettina said, “It’s very likely, because we also had to stop the shoving and make sure people stayed off the stage. At these school events, students are expected to bring their best behavior — so yes, we would take the same measures.”
Bettina also said that here’s huge historical context to the n-word that was not considered. On top of that, on a day like Culture Shock and after Hailey [Senior Hailey H.] did a workshop 4 times about that word, aline was definitely crossed.”
The fact that this incident happened at an OES event merely hours after Culture Shock definitely had an impact on the severity of the event. It showed that, at least in high energy environments, it’s still an issue for teenagers to filter themselves and make better decisions on what to say.
“Although it’s not okay to say that word I don’t think it came from a place of discrimination, it’s just the lyric of the song,” said Rowan. “But everyone who said it was making that personal choice to say it.”
Nathan C. stated that “the incident is disappointing and disheartening for sure. Culture Shock is supposed to be a day of consciousness around equity and justice, and clearly we didn’t get enough buy-in from the student body. There were many people who were absent from school that day, and clearly many more who did not internalize the core messages of the day.”
The following Monday at Gathering, Community Board released a statement regarding the incident. Each member of the Board spoke.
“Teachers were curious about why Community Board took responsibility and apologized when when it was the students who were committing the action,” said Bettina. “Community Board apologized because they felt like they let the student body down in making the dance non-inclusive.”
About the song and the event, Community Board senior representative Everett P., who DJ’ed the dance, said, “I was not expecting this. I played the same song during homecoming, and this did not happen…I play a lot of songs that are clean versions of explicit songs, and I have for the last two, three years, and nothing has happened before.”
No one can clearly say why the n-word was said at this particular dance and why there have been no altercations like this at other dances in the past.
The question now is whether or not something needs to be done about future dances. When asked what Community Board plans to do Bettina said, “ We have to provide events to the community that are inclusive. That is what we’re working on moving forward.”
EVARGLOW is a dance that has become a fixture at OES, and is looked forward to by many students. It would be a shame if it had to be shut down, but coming during a year of drama and multiple other violations of school policies, this kind of incident is something that OES desperately does not need.
The only thing that students can do is make sure something like this doesn’t happen again — especially with Prom on the horizon.
Abe Asher contributed to the reporting of this story.