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PBA Holiday Party: A Heartfelt Attempt at Inclusion

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

This December, the PBA community decided to hold a holiday party in lieu of the annual Christmas one. This event was done in the spirit of inclusiveness and was spearheaded by teacher Steven James as well as a small committee of students he put together.

“We have students here that come from different cultures and we will continue to have students that come from different backgrounds and celebrate different holidays,” said James on the philosophy behind the event.

In order to incorporate other cultures into the party, James and his committee decided to assign each advisory a different holiday: Kwanzaa, Festivus, Christmas, Bodhi Day, and Hanukkah.

The initial response to the holiday party was excitement.

“I’m really glad that Mr. James tried to put in an effort to include all the other holidays, instead of just the Christian one,” said senior Shelby Taketa. “America is supposed to be an inclusive, diverse community and I think PBA does a good job of trying to represent that and I think that aligns with our values.”

The contestants for PBA's "Ugly" Festive Sweater Competition

To celebrate these holidays, students were encouraged to bring anything from food to decorations to the party. There were also various competitions and raffles to help boost student participation.

The lack of depth was palpable at the party. Whether it can be attributed to the lack of preparation time or just general misunderstanding, some students felt the party did not reach its true goal of education and inclusion. “It’s not a deep-dive look at the cultures themselves, but more the practices of the holiday and trying to incorporate them (into the party),” James explained.

“I felt like it was still just kind of like a Christmas party except other holidays were included,” said junior Paula Rosado.

And despite the festivities, other students felt the party lacked structure and any real kind of education.

“Honestly I didn’t learn that much about other holidays,” noted Taketa, a member of the Festivus group. “I mean I did learn a few facts and my favorite part was playing dreidel with (senior) Emily (Ross), but besides that I feel like I didn’t get to learn that much and I didn’t get to play Festivus music.”

Indeed, for some students the party was just another excuse to get out of class, but that was not the case for PBA’s sole Jewish student, Emily Ross. For her, the party had the potential to be one of true inclusivity and understanding. According to Ross, however, it didn’t quite reach that goal. 

“All that was playing was Christmas music, all people really cared about was Christmas, no one asked any questions about the other holidays,” Ross said. “We didn’t learn anything about Festivus or Kwanzaa or Bodhi Day. No one asked about Hanukkah, so it (the party) has a lot of work to do.”

Ross spent the better half of the party teaching two other seniors how to play dreidel. While the event encouraged others to bring decorations and food for their designated holiday, Ross was the one who provided most of the Hanukkah-related items. Everything from paper dreidels, mini menorahs, and doughnuts was brought or made by her instead of the other members of her advisory.

On top of materials, the seventeen-year-old was also in charge of education not only for her advisory but also her other peers who attended the party. This was not how Ross imagined the event would unfold.

“I feel like I shouldn’t have to be responsible for educating anyone else and I don’t think this was the ‘let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya’ event that it was hoped to be,” Ross said. “It’s disappointing.”

While the holiday party was not on the forefront of true inclusion, it did avoid the problem of cultural appropriation. Students were told to bring things that represented and celebrated the holiday, not the culture. By doing this, the PBA community was able to avoid appropriating cultures in favor of appreciating them.

Though this holiday party didn’t quite reach its goal, PBA students are more than willing to help it do so in the future. There is much room for improvement, which the community is expected to take in stride to maintain its love for diversity and understanding.