The Student News Site of Burlingame High School

The Burlingame B

The Student News Site of Burlingame High School

The Burlingame B

The Student News Site of Burlingame High School

The Burlingame B

Protest posters spark controversy over Harry Potter-themed spirit week

J.K. Rowling, author of the popular series, has voiced contentious opinions about the transgender community
Elise Spenner
Posters protesting J.K. Rowling, the controversial author of the Harry Potter series upon which the upcoming rally is based, were found around campus on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Art teacher Eislyn Wolf-Noyes printed and displayed posters during and after lunch on Tuesday, Sept. 12, denouncing leadership’s Harry Potter-themed spirit week and rally as an endorsement of author J.K. Rowling, who has made transphobic comments on multiple occasions. In response, leadership and the administration jointly made the decision to dissociate this week’s activities from Harry Potter and Rowling. 

“[Rowling’s] track record for inclusivity and diversity is horrible,” Wolf-Noyes said. “But it’s really her personal stances that are the issue because if we promote Harry Potter… we’re basically promoting her and promoting the money she makes, the money she uses against trans folk. So it is a direct pipeline.”

Wolf-Noyes, who teaches students to merge art and activism in her Advanced Art class, learned of the Harry Potter theme on Monday morning when a student arrived in her class wearing the statement “don’t support transphobic authors” on their chest. Taken aback, she emailed leadership teachers and the administration, asking to apply their anti-racist training by interrupting the event and using it as an opportunity to educate and reflect, Wolf-Noyes said. 

After receiving Wolf-Noyes’ email, Principal Jen Fong, leadership teacher Bethany Li and activities director Erik Bennett made the collective decision to continue with the spirit week as planned. 

Because the complaint came during the middle of the spirit week, it seemed untenable to completely scrap the plans. According to a statement made by Li and Bennett on Wednesday, the staff also felt the theme of the book could be separated from the comments of the author. 

“I wanted to prioritize that students had spent a lot of time creating something,” Fong said. “And I didn’t want to just be like, ‘poof, the spirit week is over now.’ And I think I can understand I should have made a different decision. But that was in the heat of the moment.”

Wolf-Noyes felt the administration’s response was “so poor” that more direct action was warranted. Her issue, she emphasized, was not with the students who organized the rally, but with the staff who chose not to change course after she raised concerns.  

“We still have a problem if the leadership of the school and the teachers heading the leadership department respond with kind of a patronizing, deflecting email to my concerns,” Wolf-Noyes said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, we’ll do better next time,’ but no acknowledgement of the impact or that there’s an impact now that should be addressed.”

Although Wolf-Noyes is the advisor of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance club, she made the posters independently. Junior Violet Hansma, who leads the club, said she would hope for direct communication between GSA and leadership in the future.

“I think that there could have been a compromise with GSA and leadership about what could be done, rather than [Wolf’s] more public display with the posters,” Hansma said. “There should have been something beforehand that would have addressed the controversy and that would have adjusted the rally before this step.”

On Tuesday afternoon, after posters were put up across the school, leadership made the decision to remove any Harry Potter elements from the remaining days. Thursday will remain a “sports jersey” spirit day, while Friday’s rally now has a “red out” theme, aimed at representing the unity of the student body.

“It’s quite difficult to change,” said junior Reiter Madden, who leads the Rallies and Activities Commision. “There’s been months of planning that’s gone into this. So taking those months of planning and scrapping parts of it, to refill the two days, it’s been quite difficult.”

The Harry Potter theme was originally proposed by Madden’s commission, a small group of leadership students tasked with planning spirit weeks and school-wide events. The idea was then approved by the Associated Student Body cabinet and activities director, Erik Bennett, before receiving a final sign-off from the administration. 

“The rallies and activities commission selected this theme based on the fact that a lot of students at our school have read Harry Potter, and I’ve loved reading Harry Potter growing up,” Associated Student Body president Cora Haggarty said. “There wasn’t consideration about the author who wrote it because the main focus was to base the rally on the literature.”

Principal Jen Fong made the same point, asking students and staff to focus on intentionality — that those who planned the activities had no intention to cause harm to a marginalized community.

“Is not knowing a good enough reason?” Fong said. “It might be in this case. Some people did not know that this was going to cause harm. So I think in that light, I hope that people who have felt harmed by this or [are] an ally, can understand where that’s coming from and not make the problem bigger than it is.”

Still, some students felt as if displaying these posters inadvertently drew unwelcome attention and perpetuated stigmas surrounding the LGBTQ+ community.

“I’m worried that people are going to have a negative impression of the GSA and of trans and LGBTQ+ students at Burlingame because I think that they’re gonna think this is an overreaction…you hear people in the halls like ‘Oh, these are just these pronoun kids, they’re overreacting — they’re making an issue out of nothing,’” Hansma said.

Fong’s goal would be the opposite: turn a moment of harm into a moment of awareness and conversation.

“This topic is here with us today,” Fong said. “Next week, it’ll be a different topic. How are we going to respond? How do we productively express opinions and have dissent and try to bring about change?”

For Wolf-Noyes, the issue is larger than a day, a week or a single conversation — it’s a culture. 

“I think it reflects ignorance,” Wolf-Noyes said. “I think the more privilege you have, the less aware you can be of how marginalized communities suffer. And I think we have a lot of privilege at this school. And so a lot of people call themselves allies but aren’t educated and don’t educate themselves.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Burlingame B
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Burlingame High School - CA. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Elise Spenner, Editor-In-Chief
Elise Spenner is a senior at Burlingame High School and is so excited to be this year's editor-in-chief. When she's not reporting on investigative pieces, you can find her blogging about the Supreme Court, writing columns in the local San Mateo Daily Journal, or working on political campaigns. She's a big fan of sports (especially soccer, cross country, and track), watching Netflix, and spending time with friends.
Sophia Bella, Managing Editor
Sophia Bella is a junior at Burlingame High School, third-year journalism student and design and print managing editor of the Burlingame B. Aside from editing, she enjoys designing newspaper pages, creating graphics and taking photos. Outside of the newsroom you can find her rock climbing, reading, practicing photography and spending time with friends and family.
Donate to The Burlingame B
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Burlingame B Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *