by Angie Gabeau, Staff Writer, October 2020
On the first day back to school in six months, a group of students wore “Black Lives Matter” masks to make a statement. After the recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, students felt called to show their support for the cause. Soon after, the Nobles administration emailed the organizers of this initiative, stating that students couldn’t wear these masks. They were also invited to meet to discuss the reasoning behind Nobles’s censorship. In the end, the Nobles administration decided that students and faculty couldn’t wear these masks; it violated the dress code and would cause division within the Nobles community.
Unfortunately, there is no decision that could appease all students. I understand that the school wants to prevent unhealthy discourse between students. If some students wear BLM masks, then other students could wear Blue Lives Matter masks or All Lives Matter masks. This is a slippery slope: especially with the upcoming election, students would most likely wear masks with political statements, which could create other issues.
Wearing these masks also breaks the dress code as well. Students are not allowed to wear any clothing with words other than logos and small words. This policy prohibits students from wearing items with offensive or controversial words while maintaining generally professional attire at school. Nobles decided that wearing BLM masks violated these rules, although many students often go unnoticed when they fail to follow other dress code rules.
On the other hand, I believe that this kind of censorship is precisely why Nobles students struggle to have difficult conversations. We prioritize avoiding conflict instead of confronting it. If Nobles doesn’t allow us to express our opinions with a mask, how are we going to express our opinions in a classroom or with our peers? Students should be allowed to wear masks with any politically driven statements, as long as they don’t break community guidelines or contain offensive language. In the real world, people wear MAGA hats and display Biden bumper stickers on their cars. Regardless of one’s own personal views, we often witness opposing viewpoints, whether we find them offensive or not. I would rather know that someone is a Trump supporter, and be offended, than to never know at all. I’d rather know someone doesn’t support BLM than not know at all.
Black students and other people of color (POC) continue to be and feel silenced by this behavior. Before the year started, Nobles made it known that they are an anti-racist institution. Dr. Hall articulated a clear statement in assembly: Black Lives Matter. Yet, students are watching as Nobles prioritizes dress code over standing against injustice. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Nobles’s Black community has dealt with these situations. Over my time at Nobles, I have witnessed many other offensive incidents that were forgotten or pushed under the rug. This goes against the anti-racist behavior that Nobles claims to support.
Lastly, I do not think that this rule will prevent any chaos in the coming months. People will still put BLM stickers on their computers and cars, have BLM phone cases, and show their support on social media. Additionally, whether the administration attempts to stop it or not, students will still engage in these conversations. If Nobles becomes a space where we can discuss our opinions safely and effectively, then students are less likely to engage in unhealthy and angry conversations, both on social media and in person.
Nobles needs to step out of its comfort zone. This act of censorship further underscore my issues with Nobles’s culture. It’s okay to have discourse, it’s okay to disagree, and it’s inevitable that students are going to argue over politics and social justice. What is much worse is censoring these conversations. With this mask ban, Nobles has done just that. As we all know, this work is difficult, and Nobles has made great strides in improving diversity and inclusion. But we cannot ignore the injustices that occur and pretend that Nobles’s work is done. We cannot strive for peace over fighting for equity and justice.