Holiday decor examined

The Halloween spirit that had livened up the Student Service Building came to a halt just prior to the actual holiday, following a mandate from Senior Dean of Student Services Gail Newman instructing the departments inside the building, including Admissions and Records, to be culturally sensitive about decorations.

The action came after a suggestion from child development instructor Janice Townsend was made to Newman regarding a lack of cultural inclusion. After a meeting regarding Townsend’s suggestion, the majority of the Halloween decorations deemed divisive were removed from areas that were visible to students by the middle of the month.

“I didn’t want them taken down,” said Townsend as she referenced cultural inclusivity. “I wanted an ‘and.’”

“In the email I sent to the dean, I said there were two choices,” she added. “I suggested that she connect with the students, ask student life or the student government to help do the ‘and’ piece cause I don’t think it’s just the employees that should be doing it.” President Bob Kratochvil said people were not told to take down their decorations but to be sensitive.

Townsend rejects the implication that her suggestions are about political correctness.

She explained it’s about having an environment on campus that values all students at the college throughout the year.

“It shouldn’t be in addition, it shouldn’t just be the gallery and let the whole front office be Halloween because that’s where everybody comes in through,” she said. “It should be that everywhere you go, you know that there are people who have different beliefs, different cultures, different values and that that’s being reflected here.”

Townsend said that the Child Development Center, where she teaches, does not celebrate holidays in order to respect Jehovah’s Witness families on campus.

Being an instructor of a class on diversity, though, she did not believe that was the best policy, although the policy existed long before Townsend arrived at Los Medanos College 13 years ago.

“The best policy, I think, for our college around holidays would be to have the students share with us what holidays they celebrate and how they want us to reflect those holidays around the college so the college environment reflects the students that go here,” she said adding, “That’s called culturally relevant education and I think that’s what we should be doing.”

Employees from the assessment center, admissions & records, disabled students program & services and financial aid declined to comment on record.

A worker in the building, who asked to remain anonymous due to a fear of repercussions, commented that taking down the decorations made them feel suppressed.

That person also said “some people are too sensitive.”

The source explained that the Halloween celebrated in this country is diverse; that it’s a mixture of different social, religious and ethnic backgrounds.

“To me it’s a day of growth and transition,” said the source. “When I was younger I remember I got to dress up as whatever I wanted I got to be whatever I wanted … I could be somebody else … I got to change who I was for a short amount of time. That’s why it’s important to me.”

Although people refused to publicly comment, it was a common theme that more conversations about inclusion should be happening.

“We don’t have a system [to display other cultures] because we don’t have a policy. It’s time we have that,” said Townsend. “In some ways our college is ahead of the game in these conversations, and in some ways we’re behind but we need to be having these conversations.”

She explained that it’s hard to be the person who raises the issue and that she can’t imagine being the only person bothered by the lack of inclusion but she chose to just be brave and say something.

“I thought it was going to go more collegial, like it wasn’t going to raise so many prickers –– it raised a lot of prickers,” she said adding, “Holidays are very personal to people and so I think it’s something we have to work through. Every voice is important in it.”

– Beatriz Hernandez contributed to this report