Honest reporting is among the fundamental principles of journalism. But on Jan. 6, The Baltimore Sun published an article titled, “Move to gender-neutral graduation dress sparks debate in Howard County,” that failed to uphold this standard.
The article announced that Howard County officials made a decision to require gender-neutral caps and gowns at all county high school graduations. It also used Mt. Hebron’s choice of all-gold attire last year as the precedent for the decision. However, this is not true.
Former Mt. Hebron Principal Scott Ruehl said, “Last year we did all gold for the 50th anniversary, but there were benefits for one color.”
The benefits aside from gender neutrality include cost efficiency and a smoother graduation process. Instead of students being lined up alphabetically by gender, it was done just by last name.
“It made it easier for parents to know when their child’s name would be called,” added Mr. Ruehl.
Up until this year, individual schools decided the cap and gown colors, and in years past at Mt. Hebron, the graduating classes made the decision themselves.
“When I began teaching here in 1998, the seniors used to vote as to whether or not they would wear caps and gowns to graduation. The alternative was semi-formal dress. Because the students always chose to wear caps and gowns, the graduation coordinator at the time eventually discontinued the voting,” said Mt. Hebron graduation coordinator Ms. Lisa Vitali.
After securing samples of gold gowns and polling groups of students, Mr. Ruehl made the decision to mark our school’s 50th anniversary with our unique school color. This was a school-based decision.
In her article, Baltimore Sun reporter Lisa Philip wrote, “Frank Eastham, the system’s director of school administration, said he made the decision based on input from high school principals. He said the county’s Mount Hebron High School made the change last year, and other principals had requested a single color in years past.”
The statement clearly omits that Mt. Hebron made this change to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary. In doing so, Philip insinuates that our school made this decision because of the transgender issue. While ensuring the comfort of transgender students became a great result, this was not the original intent of choosing gold gowns.
As students of journalism, my staff and I are taught not to exclude information even if it is for the benefit of our articles. This is a pillar of journalistic integrity that we strive to uphold at The Mountain. It disappoints and disheartens us when a news organization that we look up to prints misleading information about our school.
Wearing gold gowns symbolized Mt. Hebron’s 50 years of excellence. The class of 2015 wore the school color proudly to commemorate our school’s treasured history. Philip’s attempt to turn our celebration into a political agenda is distasteful and dishonest journalism.
Here at The Mountain, we support the many benefits of moving to a single-color graduation gown, especially if it ensures the happiness of all students. However, to belittle our celebration in order to benefit a writer’s angle is an underhanded journalistic tactic. I hope my staff can learn from this teachable moment to gain a better understanding of media ethics.