Sponsors say caution has always been key for yearbooks

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Area yearbook sponsors said that they have always cautiously monitored the content included their yearbooks, and they will continue to be cautious in light of the recent controversy  surrounding Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

Critics are calling for Northam’s resignation after the website “Big League Politics” published a photo for the governor wearing blackface from  his 1984 medical school yearbook. The photo also shows another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

Northam first apologized for the photo, then said he was not in the photo.

Local yearbooks sponsors say they monitor content carefully.

“We are very careful about any kind of inappropriate hand gestures or inappropriate language,” Andalusia High School yearbook sponsor Sarah Mixson said. “Not only do my students and I check for inappropriate content, but so does Jostens, the company we publish with. It is very easy for us to miss something, but they are there behind us checking.”

Since Mixson has been in charge there have been no mess-ups with the yearbook.

“In the five years that I have been doing the yearbook, we haven’t had anybody slip through the cracks,” Mixson said. “But I also don’t think that we have ever had a slip up in the past.”

Mixson said that since the times are quick paced, she has several students that are in the know of what is good and bad in the current popular culture.

“My students usually have a finger on the pulse of the student body,” Mixson said. “I have had things where I don’t really know what hand sign they are throwing up or I don’t understand what they are saying, but we have a very strong vetting process for our yearbook staff. We get the best kids and I trust them.”

Pleasant Home School’s Cindy Martin has been the yearbook sponsor for 13 years and has always kept a tight leash on the content.

“We would never post a picture that had racist content,” Martin said. “We wouldn’t post a picture that was mean-spirited towards anyone. Even if it was a picture that we found to be offensive because it was unkind, we wouldn’t do that.”

When it comes to knowing what content is bad content, Martin said that she follows her common sense and training in the yearbook field.

“I have been doing this for 16 years,” Martin said. “I went to Winthrop University for a couple of weeks to study with the National High School Newspaper Editors for three weeks one summer, I went to Reno, Nevada, to study at the University of Nevado-Reno for one summer, so I have studied a lot of journalism and I have studied what the legalities and what is considered inappropriate.”

One year, she said that a student was able to sneak in a quote after she had already proofed the yearbook.

“I had a student editor who snuck in a quote several years ago that was slightly racist,” Martin said. “He was on the staff and it had been proofed and then he went after I proofed it and changed his quote. The quote was along the lines of ‘Behind every black athlete is a white man trying to catch up.’ He knew it wouldn’t fly, so he went in after I proofed the pages and stuck it in. When it came out, all I could think was I can’t believe he would put that in there.”

Martin said that she always has to be careful when dealing with kids.

“Students don’t see things quite as sensibly as adults do,” Martin said. “They are kids. They do stupid things and make stupid mistakes. I still don’t think they should be held responsible for it for the rest of their lives.”

And she things that should apply to Gov. Northam in Virginia.

“My opinon on it is that it was a stupid thing that a stupid kid did 37 years ago,” Martin said. “Even if he is 100 percent guilty, he is not the same person that did that stuff. Instead of calling for his resignation, just don’t vote for the man again.”

When Dawn Thompson was yearbook sponsor at Andalusia High School, she said that she followed the Alabama Scholastic Press Association’s guidelines.

“I never had any problems in the years that I ran the yearbook,” Thompson said. “We don’t ever have any problems now, because we hold our kids to a standard at Andalusia High School. We created a culture here at Andalusia where school pride is very important and I don’t think they would embarrass the school. I remember a club picture one year that had hand gestures and it didn’t go in the yearbook.”

Late last month, Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.