Dr. Perry Responds to Mural Controversy


Eastside Photo Archive

The East mural on display before it was painted over.

East Principal, Dr. Dennis Perry, responded to the controversy over the school’s recent removal of a 47-year-old mural in an interview with Eastside on Thursday, April 15th.

According to Perry, the mural was removed on March 23rd, not April 9th, as Eastside previously reported. The removal came after input he received on March 22nd and 23rd from community members that said the mural was offensive to Asian American people. On the 23rd, Perry spoke with superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche, who supported Perry’s decision to remove the mural. Meloche had also been receiving community input about the mural being offensive.

Perry said, “Some folks were unsettled by the racist stereotyping of an Asian man. The image depicts a Chinese man with slit eyes, Manchurian pigtails, and a dumbfounded expression. Upon closer examination, the drawing is a blend of some exotic and misinformation. His head is portrayed to be Chinese but he is wearing a generic Asian robe and Japanese wooden slippers… we were questioning, ‘what is the need to have something like that depicted in a school in the year 2021?’”

Perry said that he had passed by that mural hundreds of times and eventually, the mural blended into the landscape of the building. He said that oftentimes people do not look at things critically, which applied to overlooking the deeper meaning of the mural. Perry said that removing the mural would help students who were offended by it and would not affect students who were not offended.

“You have the right to come into this school and not have anyone comment based on your ethnicity,” he said in response to a broader question about equity.

To discuss issues relating to this broader concern, on April 14th Perry had a meeting with student leaders in Asian culture clubs and Student Government Association (SGA).Perry expressed that a major concern that was shared by the students was that often, Asian American stereotypes are tolerated, while stereotypes for other races are more readily recognized as hurtful. They plan to have another meeting in May to continue the conversation.
According to Perry, solutions other than removing the mural entirely were considered as possible responses to community concerns. One such solution was to only partially paint over the mural.

“It does look like… there could be an actual break there… just to take out the right side,” Perry said about the possibility of removing the right side only. However, this option was not chosen because of concerns that leaving only part of the mural up could further “stir the pot.”

“It would almost become like an anchor for divisiveness here at the school if we left part of it up,” Perry said. He also referred to that possibility as a potential “rallying cry” and something that could “create more vitriol.”
“In order to feel as though you belong in a school, you need to feel that you have the same access to the principal, to the teachers, to authority figures… if there is a wrong that needs to be righted, that you have the same access as everyone else,” he said.

Perry also said, “we are going to reach out to Eric Goldberg to see… if he’d like to come and… do a modern mural either in that spot or here in the school… I think that would be really cool.”

For now, Perry wants to keep focusing on the idea of “adjusting our aperture” which relates to accepting the different lenses by which people view things and understand one another. He said, “oftentimes you will have an easier time seeing things if you are looking for them” meaning that as a school community we need to examine our practices, view our environment through the lens of inclusiveness, and ensure that all students feel an equal sense of belonging at East. Perry said that this situation can lend itself to new opportunities for learning and growth within the school community.