October 31, 2014

Homecoming banner competition raises issue of house censorship

A semi-nude Dean Boyer was the focal point of Chamberlin House’s 2014 Homecoming Banner. If you don’t remember seeing it, that’s because it was disqualified.

The banner was a spoof of Botticelli’s painting “The Birth of Venus,” which depicts a nude Venus emerging from the ocean. Chamberlin’s banner, entitled “Birth of the Phoenix,” depicted Dean Boyer emerging from Botany Pond with a phoenix flying overhead. Chamberlin students deliberately omitted genitalia from their design out of respect for the dean and potential viewers on Family Weekend, according to second-year banner artist Molly Robinson.

However, College and Alumni Relations and Development, who sponsored the competition in conjunction with the Student Alumni Committee (SAC), decided to disqualify the banner, a decision supported by other offices on campus that co-sponsored Homecoming.  Consequently, SAC notified Chamberlin it had less than an hour to change its design. When Chamberlin refused, the banner was disqualified on grounds of “indecent nudity.”

One of the rules, which can be found on SAC’s website, clearly states: “Banners will be reviewed and cannot contain any images, verbiage, or innuendos which could be deemed inappropriate or profane.”

University spokesman Jeremy Manier emphasized in an e-mail to the Maroon that all submissions are subject to review. He also noted that the competition is optional and disqualification is highly unusual.

Robinson disagreed with the disqualification.

“I don’t think [they] had the right to censor this particular banner because I don’t think there was anything overtly offensive about it. If we had gone in with the obvious intention to make it overtly offensive then whoever disqualified it would have been perfectly right in making that decision,” she said.

This is not the first time student artwork has been rejected on the grounds of propriety. An incident with a house shield last year raised questions about students’ artistic freedom.

Last year, Graham House’s proposed shield design, which featured a graham cracker, was rejected because it was deemed “disrespectful” to the Graham family, according to Graham resident and second-year Owen Charles. The housing office chose a simple “G” for Graham’s shield when the students refused to revise their proposal.

Robinson said she wished she could have talked to the judges of the competition before being faced with an ultimatum.

“Bridging the gap, in terms of conversation—when it comes to students and faculty or students and committees—is definitely something the University needs to concentrate on in the future,” Robinson said.

The SAC could not be reached for comment.

Editor’s Note: Associate News Editor William Rhee is a member of SAC.