Administrators Remove Email From Student and Faculty Inboxes, Objecting to Lyrics By Kanye West

Photo by Laith Weinberger.

In an email sent Tuesday announcing the school’s first Integration Bee, junior Ollie Alfonso-Frank linked a video promoting the math competition. Assistant Principal for School Life Quinn Killy and other administrators made the decision to remove the email from student and faculty inboxes by the following morning because the video used a song by Kanye West that contained “words that probably shouldn’t be disseminated via a school email,” Killy said.

The promotional video emailed to the school by Alfonso-Frank featured “Black Skinhead” by Kanye West, who is also known as “Ye,” and the song contained profanity, including many curse words. Killy said that he met with other administrators to decide whether to take action against the video.

According to an email sent on Feb. 22 to the high school by senior Ethan Wolin, an organizer of the Integration Bee, the Bee is a “tournament-style math competition with timed, head-to-head match-ups on white boards.” The competition is set to take place on Mar. 23. Wolin is a reporter for the Bit and was Editor-in-Chief.

In “Black Skinhead,” which is also stylized as “BLKKK SKKKN HEAD” and was released in 2013, West sings about racial tensions and alludes to white supremacist organizations. West has recently been under scrutiny for making antisemitic comments on social media. Killy cited the song’s lyrics as a reason administrators decided to delete the email, but he did not elaborate.

Senior Max Kaminski, who filmed and edited the promotional video, explained that he wanted to use the Kanye song because it would be “ironic,” as the music is commonly associated with sports. “It’s a very popular song for sports videos, but this is a math competition, and we kind of wanted people to see the irony of that,” Kaminski said.

According to Kaminski, Math Department Chair Lee Goldman, the faculty advisor of Mugs and Donuts, approved the video. Goldman declined requests for comment.

Science teacher Gabe Koo and senior Ashok Tate, two competitors in the Integration Bee selected in a qualifying round, did not immediately hear about the email being taken out of their inboxes. Both Koo and Tate said they did not anticipate administrators removing the email, but they understood why administrators made the decision.

Kaminski said he was not surprised that the email was taken down. “There were some curse words in the song,” he noted. “I’m not taken aback by their decision.”

“I actually did not know what the promo video would look like at all,” Koo said. “They just told us to be at a specific location at a specific time so that they could shoot some promotional material.”

Alfonso-Frank said he did not speak to administrators. He explained that he thought their decision for removing the email was understandable but that he was “not sure if it’s the right move.”

He added that after the email was deleted, he and Wolin looked in the student handbook to see whether the language used in the video was prohibited by the school. 

The GDS handbook states that the school may “investigate” images or text that are perceived to be objectionable to the school community. The handbook specifically mentions that students may not “use inappropriate language or images in email, web pages, videos, or social networking sites.”

“I feel like the fact that it got taken down might have made it even more popular,” Tate said. The original video has received over 500 views since it was posted.

On Mar. 16, Wolin sent another all-school email and attached three more videos that were identical to the original but used different music, including an instrumental of “Black Skinhead,” classical music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey.

“It’s almost like a little inside joke for those who had seen it before, but also it was a good video,” Alfonso-Frank told the Bit. He added that Kaminski spent time making the video, and Alfonso-Frank and Wolin wanted to release it again with different music that administrators “deemed more appropriate.”

“We were really just looking for excitement and intrigue, and that’s what happened,” Kaminski said.