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‘Prom-munism’ dance sparks backlash

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — While nobody is really sure what “Prom-munism” means, students and teachers at Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School are under fire for a prom theme that critics say glorifies communism.

Sam Obenshain, executive director of the Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, said he was surprised that the school's prom planning had "taken on a life of its own" in the national media, particularly because nothing has been decided on

Sam Obenshain, executive director of the Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, said he was surprised that the school’s prom planning had “taken on a life of its own” in the national media, particularly because nothing has been decided on. (Greg Sorber/Journal)

Even the charter school’s executive director, or principal, Sam Obenshain wasn’t sure what the term implied or how it could be used as the theme for a prom.

But the fact that the senior class voted for it as this year’s prom theme made headlines across the world. And people are calling, posting comments online and sending emails to Cottonwood and Obenshain.

“The nature of some of the messages I’ve received has been, in some cases, abusive and vitriolic. Some people said they were going to come down and kick my ass,” he said Monday.

Obenshain said he was surprised that the school’s prom planning had “taken on a life of its own,” particularly because nothing has been decided on.

The senior class votes on a number of different topics, such as class song, class favorites, and graduation and prom theme, he explained. Among the prom themes they also considered were “Titanic” and “A Night in the Reef,” a nod to the BioPark aquarium, where the prom will be held on April 25.

“Ironically, ‘Prom-munism’ was the one they preferred in a democratic vote,” Obenshain said. “They never came out and said this is a prom theme based on communism. The word ‘Prom-munism’ was voted on, nothing else.”

Obenshein said he will meet with the senior class today to discuss how to proceed.

They were not in school Monday because it was senior ditch day.

People weighed in with opinions that ranged from not supporting the prom theme because they thought it offensive, to those “who support our position of letting students use this” as a learning moment.

Problem is, said Obenshain, “we didn’t dub it a communist themed prom; that was the media. They made an assumption based on a term.”

Well, yes and no.

A reporter from KRQE-TV, Channel 13, talked to some Cottonwood students last week who were under the impression that the “Prom-munism” theme implied communism.

Last week, senior Sarah Zachary told KRQE, “We have a lot of jokesters in our grade, so they wanted it to be funny, and a lot of them are really intense with politics.” Zachary said she voted for an oceanic theme because prom will be held at the BioPark aquarium.

The KRQE report was subsequently picked up by TV stations and broadcast networks across the country, such as CBS and ABC, websites and publications such as Huffington Post and Washington Times, bloggers like Perez Hilton and American Thinker, and news services including The Associated Press and Sputnik International out of Russia.

The purported prom theme also generated letters to the Albuquerque Journal in which Cottonwood teachers were taken to task.

“Communist regimes have committed genocide throughout the world, killing tens of millions,” wrote local resident Andrew Estocin. “How does this fact get trivialized at a school that prides itself on a classical liberal arts education? How does an education that focuses on academic rigor and scholarly excellence go terribly wrong when it comes to understanding good and evil?”

Marion Smith, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit educational and human rights organization, wrote an open letter addressed to the students of Cottonwood, asking them “to reverse your decision to throw a communism themed prom.”

Communist regimes around the world have killed more than 100 million people through “government-sanctioned murder and totalitarian control,” he said.

“We ought to show the victims of communism the same respect and sensitivity that we do those of the Nazi regime. So ask yourselves: Would you have voted for a Third Reich themed prom?”

Obenshain said the students “are upset about how they have been portrayed” in the media. He also said the students are fully aware that “this is part of a process” and that as the head of the school he has the power of veto, “which I’ve used on other occasions.”

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