Trailer Trash Theme Sparks Controversy

The senior theme has left many members of the Pace community concerned.  Photo: Fred Assaf

Many members of the Pace community had reservations about the seniors’ theme.
Photo: Fred Assaf

A senior year at Pace Academy seems incomplete without a theme. The graduating Class of 2012 was able to strike a rare gem when it took advantage of rumors about the imminent end of the world by proclaiming, “They saved the best for last!” So, when the Class of 2014 selected a theme to define its final year at Pace, a year which would be spent not in a building but in removable classrooms, “trailer trash” seemed like a trademark too witty to pass up.

On the morning of Aug. 14, 107 seniors stormed into the Fine Arts Center, sporting camouflage T-shirts, cut off jeans, and overalls. Their goal was nothing more than to welcome the new school year with a bit of flair while shedding some humor on a major construction project that left the entire high school without a building. But the “trailer trash” theme chosen by the class is raising eyebrows throughout the Pace community.

Rick Holifield came to Pace this summer to fill the vacant Director of Diversity position. Immediately, he was alarmed by the seniors’ choice. “There were those red flags for me,” said Mr. Holifield, “and it behooves me to say something to someone about what my thoughts are around this topic.” Mr. Holifield was certainly not the first to notice the potential implications of the theme. Head of Upper School Mike Gannon allowed the senior class to use the term “trailer trash,” but advised them to proceed with caution. “We go to school in a pretty privileged environment, and we do a pretty good job, I think, of acknowledging that as a community, but we have to be sensitive and aware of the fact that not everybody gets to go to school in a privileged environment like this,” he said. Many people within the community share his sentiments, believing that “trailer trash” is an acceptable and humorous theme so long is it is not used in a derogatory manner. But others believe that a line has already been crossed.

Latin teacher Elizabeth Kann became uneasy when she first heard “trailer trash” used by rising seniors last year, and her opinion has not changed. “I don’t like any term that demeans or disparages other people, and to me, the use of the word ‘trash’ just does,” said Mrs. Kann. Mr. Holifield agreed, saying, “In the case of the term ‘trailer trash,’ the implication is that those who live in trailers have been referred to as trash by those who don’t, usually of a higher socioeconomic background. So the term ‘trailer trash’ is actually a derogatory term.”

For most students, the theme raises little concern. Senior Class President Wylie Heiner, who was instrumental in the selection process, was excited, saying, “I love the theme. I think it’s awesome, so I feel so lucky that we got such an easy theme, because the trailers are just so easy to play off of.” A majority of seniors are equally fond of the theme because of its relation to the mobile classrooms on campus. “I thought it was great for our class because we’re in trailers,” said Mary Liles Fiveash. At the same time, a small group of students recognize a need for sensitivity. “It makes Pace kids come off as kind of snobby,” said senior Tommy Burruss. “I don’t think that it’s the end of the world, but there could’ve been another theme.”

Some seniors, however, are hostile to the idea that there is anything wrong with the term “trailer trash.” One of these students echoed the opinions of many, saying, “People are too sensitive.” Senior Maddie Wanzer believes that the intent of the theme is innocent, and therefore, there is no need for concern. “We’re not saying it in an offensive way like people are thinking. It’s not meant in an actual making-fun-of-people way,” said Maddie.

Mr. Holifield would disagree with statements like these. “I would say it doesn’t preclude us from trying not to offend someone. We have to think not about intent. We have to think about impact,” he said. “When you are speaking about anyone or anything and the word ‘trash’ is used, that should be a red flag in and of itself.”

The issue is not altogether foreign. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 400,000 residents of Georgia live in mobile homes. So the question remains as to how students and faculty will approach this topic going forward. “It’s important for us to be able to see the world through different lenses. That means that we have to have dialogue to understand one another,” said Mr. Holifield. “This could be a teachable moment.”

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