By: Ananya Dondapati
Homecoming Court 2020-2021 (left to right, top to bottom) Parinita Nautiyal, Makenna Katz, Ishaan Pandya, Caleb Birnbaum, Caroline Corriveau, Micheal Wu, Rishad Hasan, Sonia Balakrishnan, Anastasia Elfar, Max Lasky, William Dory, Olivia Solis, Asquith Clarke II, Nana Acheampong, Sophie Pirrera
Each year, homecoming week culminates with the crowning of a king and queen. However this tradition has become outmoded and remains exclusionary. In order to make this event more inclusive, High School North has decided to abandon the custom, and, instead, begin a new tradition: “The Knights of the Round Table.”
The Knights of the Round table will feature fifteen homecoming nominations; out of the fifteen, five individuals will be “knighted” the Knights of the Round Table.
In order to learn more about this new change, we talked to Student Council Executive Board members Sonia Balakrishnan and Kirthi Chigurupati.
Q: What prompted the change of the homecoming court?
Sonia Balakrishnan (president): “Each year the student council aims to improve upon staple events and make sure that we can try our best to create activities that are inclusive. As president this year, I wanted to make sure that I implement initiatives and activities that embrace all students and redefining homecoming was definitely a good way to start. Originally the homecoming court consisted of nominating five girls and five boys and then there would be a King and Queen winner. After reviewing the original event we thought that it was gender exclusive and the terms king and queen were outdated and forced people to be paired together.
We also realized that there wasn’t any definition for homecoming voting. We were thinking, “what are people voting for?” In response, we redefined homecoming voting to be one in which students vote for peers whom they feel exemplify qualities of good character and are uplifting students in the school community. My top priority is to make sure students feel welcomed and appreciated in all initiatives that we take on.”
Kirthi Chigurupati (vice president): “The real decision making started with administration, who have been immensely proactive and supportive throughout the process. But I would say the process truly started from 2018 in my freshman year. We started making changes to student council events like the ToKnight Show, formerly known as Mr. North to promote gender inclusivity.”
Q: How exactly are you carrying out the court formatting and how did you decide this?
Kirthi: “We have had around five meetings with administration throughout the decision process, two meetings with our full student council across all four grades, and countless calls as just an eboard to come to this decision. It was a difficult balance between tradition and change, as I feel is the case with many systems across the state and country. We looked into other schools nearby, but frankly, none of them have adopted any solutions to the issue – I’m proud that we are one of the first.”
The new formatting has two major changes: the elimination of coupling and a change in the number of winners. One thing very important to both us and administration was that these changes were systematic and not just performative. At first, our idea was just to remove the gender labels attached to the nominees and winners, but we realized that if we didn’t make drastic changes in the formatting, the results would be the same as they previously were.
Sonia: There will be two rounds of voting.
Round 1: Vote for fifteen students who you feel exemplify traits of good character and are uplifting knights! This makes up the court.
Round 2: Vote for 5 students from the court to be the “Knights of the Round Table.”
This style of voting and naming ensures that people are not forced to be coupled together. Any person can be voted for regardless of gender. Any combination of five people from the fifteen people can be the “Knights of the Round Table.”
Additionally, defining what characteristics people are celebrating establishes a positive guideline for voting, a way to prevent voting that is merely superficial.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the new homecoming court formatting- what do you think the lasting effects will be?
Sonia: I hope this positively impacts the school climate and community, and voting is now looked at as a chance to nominate people who you want to recognize for either a random act of kindness, motivation, or constant positivity.
Kirthi: “With this adaptation of Homecoming, we want nothing more than to make every student within our community feel welcomed and loved.
Assigning gender roles and heterosexual coupling in our homecoming process might not seem a big deal to most of us here at North- but the normalization of straight cisgender couples means we are further isolating and rejecting our LGBTQ+ peers. We understand fully that this step is not enough in our fight for inclusion, but as the newly elected members of Eboard, we are all seeking to use our privilege to make strides in the right direction. As the year progresses, inclusivity for our peers of all races, genders and sexualities will always be our first priority and we will continue to work for equal representation – after all, we were elected as student representatives for all of our school, not just a portion of the student body.
Q: In the past encouraging school spirit within the student body has not been an easy task, especially with Covid-19. How do you feel like this may affect school spirit?
Kirthi: While going through this process, this was one of our biggest worries.
The seniors this year are truly in a difficult position, losing traditions they have waited for their entire schooling careers. We were hesitant to make bold strokes out of fear that we would be taking yet another tradition away from them.
But ultimately, we recognized that this very perspective was incredibly privileged. Yes, it is important to maintain tradition and yes, Homecoming means a lot for our North community, but at what cost? Isolating our peers? It was a trade-off our student council was willing to make for the betterment of our community.
I also want to commend the senior class officers, Sophie, William, Parinita, and Palak for being great supporters throughout this process and speaking up on behalf of the senior class, ensuring us they would accept the changes.. Speaking to school spirit, it is something the student council has been struggling with since last March. Even as a council, it is difficult to feel a sense of togetherness when you can’t see each other in person. But I cannot fathom a better reason to be proud of being a Knight than the furthering of compassion and unity in our school. Instead of crediting this change to Eboard or Student Council, I truly hope everyone can take a second to appreciate what this means about our student body and their openness to change if it means even one person will feel more included. I feel proud to be a Knight right now more than I have ever been, and I would hope others can relate to that same sentiment.
Sonia: I think whenever something as important as making changes for inclusivity needs to be done, the right time is always the present moment. Although the original style of Homecoming is a tradition, I know that implementing a change now will make an impact for years to come. I know we might have heard this many times but “if not me then who?” So, I felt as president it is my responsibility to take the initiative. I also think the class of 2021 is truly so passionate about advocating for embracing one another that I believe they are a perfect class to implement this change because they are so understanding and socially aware.
Q: Is there any other information you would like to share with us?
Spirit week online is finally ready to go! We will of course be having some great spirit day themes like Pajama Day but we will also be using online features like zoom backgrounds as forms of spirit. To honor the court nominees and final winners, we will be having many social media events highlighting each of them individually. There is a lot to look forward to in the next two weeks!
I hope you all like the changes we have made. I am always here if you ever need to talk or want to share an idea and as always, keep spreading kindness.