overheard - what our readers have to say

Photo sent wrong message

My name is Andrew Robinson ‘95, MAT ‘97, and I’m an assistant principal at a high school in Washington County, Oregon. Out here on the West Coast, I appreciate keeping in touch with what’s going on at my alma mater through our magazine. Thank you for making it a high-quality, high-interest publication.

I’m writing because I was shocked and disappointed by what I saw on page 5 of the spring 2013 issue: a photo of several people standing in front of a “TEDx” structure, and one of the men in the middle flashing a gang sign with one of his hands. The people in the photo were the guest speakers at the TEDx event at Binghamton University in February. The man flashing the gang sign was Alexander Macris, a Binghamton University graduate.

In my work as an assistant principal, I frequently interact with gang-affected youth and their families, and struggle to help my students choose a better future. I have witnessed how destructive gangs can be to their members and to the people in the communities in which they live. I have known young people who have died as a result of this problem.

I know that it is socially acceptable for everyday people to flash gang signs as a joke in photos. We’ve all seen these photos: usually white men who have had too much to drink and are just being silly. I don’t think Mr. Macris is a member of the Latin Kings, and I don’t think it’s wrong for him to try to be silly in a photo. My complaint is that it is socially acceptable to parody gangs in this fashion and that people don’t pause to think about what it means. How gangs impact people and communities was trivialized when Mr. Macris flashed that gang sign in the photo, when a respected organization like TED was associated with it, and when the Binghamton University Magazine decided to publish the photo. I would expect to see a photo like this in some of my at-risk students’ Facebook profiles, but not condoned by the educated and socially responsible people I associate with TED and Binghamton University.

In the future, please be more aware of the photos you publish and the messages they send (whether the people in the photos are aware of them or not).  Thank you.