News Archives

2009 Prom

March 31, 2009

Burroughs 2009 Prom:  Head of School and Junior Class Officers on the Record

Statement from the Head of School –

The theme of our spring prom has become a lightning rod for concern and discussion, not only among members of the Burroughs community but also within the broader community. I would like to try to clarify the matter.

First and foremost, we apologize for any offense the theme, "The Seven Deadly Sins," and the associated invitation has generated. I can say with absolute certainty no one intended to insult or offend. This was a lapse in sensitivity and judgment, and a gap in our review system. 

Our prom is the junior class’s gift to the senior class. It is meant to be an understated, on-campus dance. Most of the expenses are covered by the class’s fundraisers held over a four-year period. The class selects a theme, designs the invitation and plans all of the decorations. They “own” this project and historically have accomplished it with characteristic creativity and industry. I can’t say that students haven’t ever tried to push the envelope, but they have done so within acceptable adolescent norms, and, when they have pushed beyond what’s acceptable, the school has intervened. 

This year our junior class selected "The Seven Deadly Sins" for its prom theme. The idea was to parody gluttony, sloth, greed, et cetera – not to embrace these vices. Students designed the invitation using images that are inappropriate to many, as a matter of religion and as a matter of taste. The invitation was not carefully reviewed; it went out without authorization by school authorities. If we had exercised our responsibility to review the invitation, we would have stepped in and would have anticipated how this attempt at irony could be misunderstood. We apologize for this lack of oversight.

The invitation lit the brush fire that has since developed. The images were posted on various blogs and in several publications.

What now?

Our system of prom supervision and other student initiatives will be thoroughly examined. 

To our current students and parents, please accept our apology for not providing the kind of adult guidance you deserve and should expect.

To our alumni and parents of alumni, please remember your Burroughs experience and be assured that this incident is a misstep in an 86-year history of providing a solid educational environment and springboard for bright, curious and motivated students.

To those in the larger community, who do not know Burroughs well, please accept our apology for this incident and understand that this was a mistake from which we will grow.

To everyone, Burroughs has always fostered open and candid discussion, student initiative and independence, freedom of opinion and expression – and we will continue to do so with renewed respect for, and sensitivity to, others. As an independent school, Burroughs has a long and demonstrable commitment to diversity – diversity of thought, diversity of religion, diversity of socio-economic background. This commitment is a cornerstone of a Burroughs education. Please do not judge us by this single event. 

– Keith Shahan

Statement from the Junior Class Officers –
Recently, the school’s spring prom theme has created much unhappiness in the Burroughs community. Many JBS parents find the theme inappropriate, religiously divisive, and outright offensive. This negative reaction has alarmed the John Burroughs junior class which chose the theme. 

When the class voted on potential themes in the first trimester, no student chose this subject – the Seven Deadly Sins – with the specific intention of alienating or offending any religious group or person. The students sought to parody those enumerated sins which plague the world today. This effort to mock the sins should not be seen as an embracement of debauchery, greed, and contempt for one’s fellow, but rather as a well-intentioned attempt at satire. 

The negative ideas embodied in these sins have no place at Burroughs and certainly are not characteristic of Burroughs students. Sadly, this attempt at satire has hurt many individuals’ feelings. For this, the junior class remains steadfastly remorseful. 

The institution prides itself on a commitment to diversity and goodwill among students and faculty. The idea that some students and parents, valued members of the Burroughs community, feel persecuted by this year’s prom theme creates much sorrow within the class. With the greatest conviction, the class hopes these individuals can accept its apology and understand that the juniors had no intention of mocking any religion or moral standard. 

Intolerance and disrespect have no place in the John Burroughs community; rather, the school prides itself on a commitment to forbearance and deference. To those who feel the school has lost sight of these common goals universal to all community members, the junior class is truly sorry. 

– Junior Class Officers