In this modern age, challenging traditions that have been rooted in society seems to be a trend, and at BFA, this is no different. The Mr. Bobwhite and Ms. Comet competition has been an annual competition that lets seniors compete in skits and answering questions in order to win a scholarship.
The winners have traditionally been one male and one female senior, respectively crowned as “Mr. Bobwhite” and “Ms. Comet”, after their performances in the competition were evaluated by a panel of judges.
Some BFA faculty and students have begun to take notice that the gender-separated competition could lean towards not being inclusive enough for students that struggle with their gender identity.
This has led some people to believe that the Bobwhite Comet competition should become gender-neutral as to not pressure those students who struggle with their gender identity to pick a side.
MaryEllen Tourville, an English teacher at BFA as well as the co-advisor for student council, has been a powerful voice pushing for this change to happen. She’s passionate about the topic, with no doubts that this is the right move for BFA.
“Students say things like ‘This whole school is set up for male and female’, and that’s it. And often it’s straight males and females and it’s just not fair,” Tourville said.
Feeling comfortable and safe at school is a right that students have, and Tourville believes that making this change would lower the amount of students that feel that the school is set up for straight, cis-gendered students to succeed over students who don’t fit into either of those categories.
“The outcome [of the competition] is to give scholarships to students, but we’re calling the winners ‘Mr. Bobwhite’ and ‘Ms. Comet’. And I just feel like there are a lot of students who aren’t really comfortable fitting into one of those categories and if you want to compete for a scholarship, we’re asking you to pick a category. And I just don’t feel like that’s fair,” Tourville said.
In the competition, the male and female seniors all compete in the same events. They compete in skits together, and are given the same questions to answer, however, the school still chooses to separate the winners based on gender.
In an article done by the Washington Post, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland, changed their traditional homecoming court format to include a gender-neutral format. With the new format, any two students could be crowned despite their gender identity.
With their new format, the winners are able to choose how they are introduced as the homecoming court. They can be called by the traditional names, ‘king’ or ‘queen’, or could choose to go by ‘royalty’.
Earlier this year, BFA made a similar change to their homecoming format, changing from the traditional boy-girl homecoming court. Last fall, each class was able to choose any two students to be crowned, despite their gender identity, this way, the voting would be focused more on, ‘who has the most school spirit?’ instead of their gender identity.
Tourville regards this change as a success. She hopes that the change to the homecoming format would be able to lead the way to a change with the Bobwhite Comet competition’s format.
Kamryn Montague (‘18), who serves as the President of the Executive student council and one of the Student Representatives to the school board, is heavily involved with the Bobwhite Comet competition. For the past three years, she has been the stage manager of the competition, helping the competition to run smoothly year after year.
When asked about the issue regarding the idea to make Bobwhite Comet gender-neutral, Montague shares that she’s torn on the issue.
“I do see both sides. I know as a school we are moving towards more gender-neutral things with homecoming and possibly Prom, but at the same time, it’s hard for me because there’s two different mascots, so to speak. The Bobwhites have been more male and the Comets have always been female. So I think it would be kinda hard to change, but I do feel like you can participate with whatever gender you identify with. I don’t think there should be any discrepancy around that,” Montague said.
A big obstacle that seems to be recognized by Tourville and Montague is the issue around what to call the winners, considering that currently, they are called ‘Mr. Bobwhite’ and ‘Ms. Comet’. Looking at other competitions in the country, specifically award shows, they have handled the naming of categories quite well when it came to gender-neutral competitions.
In an article written by Elle Magazine, they mention that award shows such as the Grammys and the Video Music Awards have changed categories such as ‘Best Male Vocalist’ or ‘Best Female Vocalist’ into ‘Best Pop Vocal Performance’, in order to accommodate for those who struggle with their gender identity, and allows for anyone, despite their gender identity to be put into the category.
MTV, the broadcaster of the Video Music Awards, adds to the article that talent should not be associated with gender. According to this statement, the Bobwhite Comet competition should become gender-neutral, as the judges base the awards off their performance during the competition.
When Tourville was expressing her hope for changing the competition, she began to explore the possibilities that not having an inclusive competition could lead to. She expresses that the school shouldn’t have to wait until a student goes through the unnecessary pain of feeling uncomfortable and unaccepted in the school to change the competition and should be able to make preventative measures in order to help make the student body feel more comfortable.
“I’ve had several students who I’ve gotten close to, who are dealing with [gender identity] and so I guess I’m just starting to see that issue through other people’s eyes, and seeing how that can be really painful. And we look at a lot of people hurting out there in the world, and you look at school violence and stuff, it all comes from people feeling excluded and people hurting, unnecessarily. So I just feel like you know, it might be something I can do to make that a little better. I care about all my students and I want everyone to feel good about being here, and I just feel like that might be an area where we could use some work,” Tourville said.