No Name Calling Week is Bleeped


These were the unapproved posters: Skank, Tramp, Wench, Tranny, Prude, Floozy, Fagg*t, Sl*t, Wh*re, Dyke and (previously) Gay.

Hannah Tooley

Words have power.

This was probably the biggest lesson I learned during this past week (Feb. 10-14th) when I helped lead the Gay-Straight-Trans* Alliance (GSTA) in No Name Calling Week, one of the largest national anti-bullying initiatives across the country. It’s a cause I feel strongly about because at our school, it’s not uncommon to see kids starting play fights by calling each other fagg*ts, or a boy dragging a girl by her hair saying “You’re my b**ch now.” Though these are usually laughed-off, it’s not always meant to be friendly.

On a more extreme side, two of my friends were standing in the parking lot behind school when two boys in a pickup truck drove past hurling bottles and the word “dyke” at them.

So this is an important issue.

As part of the weeks activities, the GSTA paired with Student Council to plan a short film festival, a poetry slam and an advisory activity among other events. To promote No Name Calling Week and its events, the GSTA spent seven hours making promotional posters. Since it was Valentine’s week, we made big red hearts, but instead of the typical “Be Mine”, we printed derogatory names that students are called and crossed them out to show how they shouldn’t be used. We knew the posters were outrageous and maybe a little bit provocative, but isn’t that what any marketer would want?

They were meant to attract attention. And they did. Big time.

We posted them in the hallways the weekend preceding No Name Calling Week. However, when I returned to school the following Monday, I was shocked to discover every poster had been torn down. Additionally, an email—CC’ing three other school officials—was left in my inbox by the assistant principal summoning me to a meeting to discuss the content of the heart-posters. After a series of emotional negotiations with the Principal, I was left with a list of approved and unapproved posters.

The short list of approved words were as follows: Moron, Dingus, Wingnut, Worthless, Spaz, Wannabe, Retard, and Stoner. On the opposite side, some of the disapproved were: Skank, Prude, Tramp, Floozy, Wench, Sl*t and Fagg*t. Even the word Gay was rejected at first before we argued that that word was already a part of our club’s name: the Gay-Straight-Trans* Alliance.

As you may have guessed, I was puzzled over some of these choices.

These were all the posters that were approved for No Name Calling Week.
These were all the posters that were approved for No Name Calling Week. (Click for full size)

The biggest argument the school seemed to give me was that little children walking through the hallways couldn’t be exposed to that type of language. That kind of reasoning only confused me more. Why were some insults considered okay for kids to see and others not? It is No Name Calling Week, not Some Name Calling Week.

Furthermore, the trend of which posters were censored was clearly leaning toward hurt speech directed at sexual-orientation and gender bigotry, girls specifically. The most meaningful words, the conversations we really wanted to start, were around these censored words.

Why is it that everything that seems frustrating or stupid gets called gay or retarded on a daily basis? Why are girls either labeled prude or a sl*t?

Floozy isn’t really obscene or vulgar anymore, and everybody knows it’s not the problem.

Censoring specific words only shows that words are powerful. They are a vehicle for expressing ourselves and our experiences. They evoke strong emotions, from both their users and recipients. Only by discussing how and why certain words can be offensive are we able to truly learn how these words can be used to bully others, even playfully. Even very young children can only learn the words their parents consider bad words if their connotation is explained. Even a parent has to confront the words—sometimes actually speak them—in order to teach why we don’t use them.

Also puzzling, was the feeling that I had just lost something more important than a few posters. Weren’t my posters against hate speech within my rights of free speech? Or were they too obscene? If the word is crossed out, is it still crossing the line?

In fact, according to the districts definition of obscene, it states, “‘Obscene’ means… the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Although I understand the school’s position in protecting students, these posters did have literary, artistic and political value. The offending words were crossed out to show that students shouldn’t be using them, with the message “Join GSTA in fighting back against bullying- No Name Calling Week” written on the posters’ outside edges. They were made to condemn the use of these words in hurtful and discriminatory ways against kids of any age.

The Manitou Springs School District’s vision statement expresses a desire to create “compassionate citizens contributing with knowledge and integrity to a dynamic world.” Additionally, our mission statement reads:

“Manitou Springs School District 14 is dedicated to

  • Providing a safe and caring environment

  • Encouraging all students to reach their potential

  • Preparing responsible citizens”

No Name Calling Week supported perfectly this mission. The GSTA wanted to unite all of Manitou’s residents by picking an issue everyone could relate to. We were taking a stand for the millions of students who are taunted on the basis of their physical appearances, intellectual aptitudes, cultural differences, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, or any other reasons. The reality is that students are called these names and worse, and it has a big impact on their lives here at MSHS.

Bullying impacts the learning environment of the school, and not directly confronting the issue doesn’t make it go away.

I can only hope that students continue to treat this issue seriously, and that the GSTA and other clubs here at MSHS continue to pursue this issue. Although the censorship of our posters took some power out of our message—dingus and wingnut can only go so far—students were still talking about the posters and the issue of bullying throughout the week, which is all we could have asked for.

Bullying is a worldwide issue and can’t be fixed with just a few dozen posters and a couple events. We must continue to keep this topic at the forefront of our minds and provide students of every origin a safe learning environment here at Manitou Springs High School. Our school’s reputation is that of diversity and acceptance of people of all walks of life, and we as MSHS citizens should strive to keep our reputation intact.

Words have the power to hurt and the power to cure.

Use them wisely.

By Hannah Tooley