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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Investigation rejects Starkville High prom rumor

    The Rumor

    More than a month ago, I heard white and black students at Starkville High School could potentially attend different proms. The rumor was that one prom would be held in the school gym and another in the local country club.
    The news was absurd. Segregated proms in Starkville, home of a higher institution of learning?
    I grew up near Charleston, Miss. (where Morgan Freeman lives). I attended its elementary school for almost three years and have continued to visit the town throughout my life. I have felt far more racial tension in Charleston than I have – and ever will, I suspect – in Starkville.
    But on April 19, 2008, Charleston had its first racially integrated prom. Thus, potential segregated proms in Starkville during 2009 registered as an ironic torpedo to my brain. When a journalist – or hell, any decent human – gets wind of news like that, confusion and anger might inspire a mission.
    First, I had to find out if this was true. Second, if it was true, I had to expose the villains involved. Third, after exposing villains, I would bask in self-righteousness.

    The Controversy

    The truth is there weren’t any villains, only an innocent decision made by Mississippi State University that contributed to a prom controversy at Starkville High.
    Last year, Starkville High held its prom in the Union. The rental fee was inexpensive, and everyone seemed to have a great time. Naturally, the school wanted to use the Union again in 2009.
    But the price of renting the Union increased. The higher price would have limited what the school could have done for the event, Starkville High Principal Kathi Wilson said.
    “Because we really didn’t have a large budget, we had to look at an alternative,” she said. “So this is what we were left with: have it at the gym, have more money for decorations, for food – for prizes, nice prizes like iPods and MP3 players – and that kind of stuff. Or have it at the Union and have a menu that consisted of cake and punch.”
    However, from what I gathered, the bigger monkey wrench was Super Bulldog Weekend. When MSU changed the weekend to April 17 through 19, a parking issue developed for Starkville High prom-goers. Students would have to meet at a parking lot and be shuttled to the Union.
    “Students basically said, ‘I don’t want to ride a bus in my prom dress,'” Wilson said.
    Moreover, horse-drawn carriages, limousines and fancy cars wouldn’t have the same prestige if you had to jump on a bus anyway. Wilson believed this limitation was the deciding factor when the majority of students voted to have the prom in the school gym.
    But the results of the vote weren’t pleasing to the 135 or so students who voted to have the prom in the Union. Before the prom, I discussed the vote with a student who wishes to remain anonymous. The student said some students thought the school gym was too familiar for a special event like the prom, not to mention the lack of air conditioning in the gym.
    “The Union was hot enough,” the student said. “We were sweating.”
    The student claimed that most of the dissenting students were white, which gave the illusion of race-based conflict. Nonetheless, teachers were concerned about the divide between students.
    “It became mass chaos at the school,” the student said.
    However, the tension soon died down.
    “We’re all cool with it now,” the student said. (This narrative was confirmed by other sources.)
    But what about the country club prom? The student said the same students who wanted to have the prom in the Union pitched in funds to have an after-prom party. The student admitted that the term “country club” might be perceived as exclusionary, but the location was found to be the most appropriate venue for the after-prom party.
    The prom controversy at Starkville High was based on factors related to economics, convenience and prestige, not race. But the fact remained that I needed to attend the prom to make sure everyone wasn’t lying to me.

    The Prom

    It was my first prom, and I’m 24. My date was fellow journalist and Reflector online editor Adam Kazery. We are heterosexual men, but I needed someone to take photographs. I wore khakis and a blue shirt. I don’t remember what Kazery was wearing, but I’m sure the outfit was fine. We both sported sexy press passes, as recommended by Principal Wilson.
    We ran into Wilson right outside the gym. She shared a “disturbing” rumor involving me – that I was going to interview students in the gym and go to the country club later for more interviews. That rumor would have been true at one point, but I already knew what was going on at the country club, and I wanted to simply observe the turnout at the gym and speak informally with a few people.
    We spent about two hours in the gym. There was no tension at all. Everything I observed – the dancing, the hugs, the laughs, the mingling – suggested students no longer cared about the controversy earlier in the year.
    In other words, the event was boring and lame for a journalist, although seeing Christmas lights on basketball goals was inspiring. Yes, they certainly got their money’s worth this year!
    I remember thinking “What the hell am I doing here?” several times. Kazery implied as much, desperately looking for good angles that weren’t there. His boredom reached a peak when he said he wanted to dance with someone, and I quickly reminded him about the security guards. I also couldn’t think of more inappropriate coverage than two journalists in their 20s getting down with junior and senior high school students.
    I eventually met Judy Couey, superintendent of the local school district. I mentioned the country club to her, and she said it is typical for most students to leave prom before it’s over for separate parties. Later, Couey hooked my arm with hers and led me to a better view of the students dancing in unison and smiling. Indeed, there was only one prom for Starkville High Saturday.
    Perhaps this positive ending inspired me to celebrate later that night at a friend’s house. Bummed cigarettes, beer and Irish Car Bombs were the refreshments.
    The next morning I dealt with the worst headache of my life.
    Jed Pressgrove is a graduate student
    majoring in sociology. He can
    be contacted at [email protected].

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    Investigation rejects Starkville High prom rumor