Scholastic Controversy

Thomas Edson

Editor in Chief

Each year Scholastic holds a national art competition for students in high school. Students can submit examples of their work in a variety of mediums: from drawing to photography to fashion. Submissions are looked at by a panel of judges and can win awards ranging from honorable mention to a gold key. If a student wins a gold key in the local competition, their work will move on to regional andd national levels, where scholarships in addition to medals can be earned.

Jamesville-DeWitt High School senior Kathryn Tzivanis has had a passion for photography since she was 13. She has entered her work into Scholastic’s contests and it has garnered three gold keys, four silver keys, and three honorable mention awards through her junior year of high school. This time, by entering her work into Scholastic’s competition, Tzivanis put herself in the mix for scholarships that would help her pay for college.  

For her senior year, Tzivanis had prepared a portfolio of photographs that she felt sent a strong message. Tzivanis photographed women who were nude from the waist up, picturing them doing everyday tasks. “I wanted to emphasize and normalize the nude top,” said Tzivanis. “If men can walk around and be idolized for their topless upper body, then women should be able to do the same thing.”   

Tzivanis’s inspiration came from her aunt, who Tzivanis says always told her to put meaning into her work and make it worth something. “I felt like it was time to do that, so I incorporated my very left-wing views into my work to send my message,” said Tzivanis.

As Tzivanis was preparing to select her photos that would make up the portfolio that she would submit to Scholastic, photography teacher Lisa Troubetaris decided that she should approach Principal Paul Gasparini for permission due to the content of the photos. Then, Tzivanis ran into an unanticipated road block.

“[Ms. Troubetaris] explained the situation to me, and asked me if it would be okay for a student to submit semi-nude photographs of women for the Scholastic Awards,” said Mr. Gasparini, “She explained to me what Katie was working on, and I had no doubt about the sincereity or attempt at artistic expression. However, sometimes the medium of expression is not always appropriate for our age level at our school.”

For Mr. Gasparini, his decision to prevent the portfolio from entering Scholastic ultimately came down to the fact that J-DHS is a public high school, so it represents the community, as well as its students. Mr. Gasparini acknowledged that there would be people on Tzivanis’s side saying that it was art and should not be restricted, but that there are people who would be on the other end of the spectrum, and would be against the idea of a school that represents their community having its name on a portfolio of semi-nude images. He felt that it would be best to go by social norms and not spark any controversey over a portfolio representing the J-D community.

After Ms. Troubetaris told her Mr. Gasparini’s verdict, Tzivanis decided to take matters into her own hands and approach Mr. Gasparini himself about her portfolio.

“Katie was very compelling. She is a great kid and a real credit to the school. I really respect her and I like her very much, but we have to cater to certain things here, and that is why I made my decision,” added Mr. Gasparini.

Tzivanis understands where Mr. Gasparini is coming from, but takes a different approach to the solution. “When something controversial jumps in the mix, people are going to freak out. I understand that, but that is part of change and it needs to happen. It isn’t something we should shy away from,” said Tzivanis. She felt that this portfolio that she was putting together was a great way to try and change body images and show that there is sexism in the way we view men’s and women’s bodies differently.

Ms. Troubetaris found herself torn on the subject. “I absolutely understand where Katie is coming from, but then I also understand where the administration is coming from,” said Ms. Troubetaris.

While the deadline to submit her work to Scholastic has passed and Tzivanis missed out on the opportunity to win scholardships, she is still actively addressing the issue. In the coming days, Tzivanis is meeting with regional and national representatives from Scholastic. Her goal is to get an option for students to submit work as independent artists, and not have to have their work affiliated with their school’s name. “Students should have the opportunity to express themselves through art and not be restricted by social norms,” she said.