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HHSTV: What Is the Fate of Mr. Harriton?

Sam Catania and the Harriton TV Staff

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The following report was originally broadcast by Harriton TV on Friday, November 2nd.

Harriton administrators have directed Student Council to change the name of Mr. Harriton to be gender-non-specific, according to multiple sources in council and school administration. According to a Student Council officer, administrators began discussing this change three months ago in an effort to make Mr. Harriton — the school’s most prominent tradition, fundraiser, and event — a more inclusive contest. Although the decision is not final, according to Mr. Ferguson, Harriton administration has yet to hear any compelling arguments against the change.

Mr. Harriton was created in 2007 with the intent to ironically parody female beauty pageants. At present, all juniors and seniors are allowed to compete regardless of gender. But, in the competition’s 11 years of existence, no girl has ever competed. Administrators believe that the name acts as a deterrent to females who may wish to try out, according to a council spokesperson.

Initial reactions by many students to the change have been negative. Lindsay Sayer, president of the school’s gender and sexuality alliance (GSA), said she is opposed to the change not because she believes that event won’t become more inclusive, but because, in her mind, females should not be allowed to compete in the competition in the first place.

Lindsay said Mr. Harriton isn’t like a typical talent show. “It’s supposed to make fun of beauty pageants,” she said. “If people who could legitimately be in beauty pageants were in the show then the whole narrative would be lost.” She added that she doesn’t believe the show is excluding any specific group.

In an email to upperclassman students on October 30th, Assistant Principal Ms. Marcuson reminded 11th and 12th grades that “ALL juniors and seniors” are able to audition. National legislation known as Title IX guarantees that all students regardless of gender are allowed to compete in events like Mr. Harriton. However, the regulation does not guarantee that a school must promote that fact, nor that they must fill specific gender-based quotas.

According to a Council officer who wished not to be named in this story, all five Student Council officers oppose any change to the name of the fundraiser. Harriton TV has not independently confirmed the opinions of every officer.

Within three months of receiving the directive to change the show’s name, at least one of the officers formally met with administrators to discuss the change. They told Harriton TV that they and the other officers are working to keep the culture of the event alive, while also increasing its inclusivity.

Harriton TV interviewed Harriton Athletics and Activities Director Mr. Ferguson to learn more about the requested change. While confirming that administration has the intent of encouraging HSC to change the name, he also said that the discussion is ongoing. LMSD will be bringing in a gender specialist from the University of Pennsylvania to help facilitate conversations.

The direction came with the support of Assistant Superintendent and Former Harriton Principal Dr. Eveslage, who has pushed for Mr. Harriton to change names for years, according to sources. Dr. Eveslage could not be reached for comment.

The competition, which was originally started by the Harriton Audio/Visual club 12 years ago, is generally considered to be HSC’s largest and most popular event of the year. The event has sold out the Harriton Auditorium for at least the past five years. It raised more than 30,000 dollars for charity in 2018.

The event has become a cornerstone of school spirit and culture at Harriton High School, according to a former student: “Harriton has very few traditions that have lasted since the school moved into its new building,” he said. “Certainly, of the few that have remained, Mr. Harriton is the most prominent. Changing the title of the show could be seen as jeopardizing the show’s connection with the past, and blurring the original anti-misogynistic message it carried.”

The competition has made changes in the past to address gender-issues that have arisen. In 2015 Student Council stopped using the term “escort” to describe the female students who accompany the male contestants on stage and participate. The partners, as they are referred to now, perform in multiple dances as well as the Q&A portion of the show.

That change was due in large part to a 2014 Harriton Banner Editorial by Allison Schwartz and Sitara Soundarajan that ran just days prior to the previous year’s Mr. Harriton. The editorial pointed out that escorts are synonymous with prostitutes. While the article did lead to change, at the time it was published it received heavy criticism from students who felt that it undermined the upcoming production. Banner editors initially deleted the article before deciding to repost it with an added editors note. It contained an apology for the timing of the initial publishing and for hurting the feelings of those who had worked hard to put Mr. Harriton together.

Mr. Ferguson directed Harriton TV members to Principal Mr. Weinstein and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Eveslage for more information. Mr. Weinstein gave similar remarks to Mr. Ferguson.

Please continue to check back as this story develops. Additional off the record and/or on background comments may or may not have been made regarding this topic. Harriton TV is a student-run news organization that has no direct affiliation with Harriton Student Council.

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HHSTV: What Is the Fate of Mr. Harriton?