Santa Barbara High School students and alumni were outraged last week after student government announced that this Saturday night’s homecoming dance theme would be “Jungle Fever,” a derogatory term used to describe a nonblack person’s attraction to a black person. On Friday morning, Associated Student Body President Ben Zevallos announced over the campus loudspeaker that they were dropping the word “fever” from the event title and instead making it “Jungle: Welcome to the Wild.”
“[S]tudent organizers and staff were unaware that, for some, ‘Jungle Fever’ has a derogatory or negative connotation associated with interracial dating,” Zevallos said, adding that ASB voted on a “Jungle” theme, which morphed into “Jungle Fever” “during the creative process.”
Few expressed frustration on campus, students said, but indignation appeared to a higher degree on social media. The term “Jungle Fever” is used to dehumanize black people, “playing into the stereotype that they are subhuman, savage, and uncivilized,” alum Miranda Vasquez said in a Facebook post. “It might be easier to just turn a blind eye, get dressed up and enjoy the night, but as allies to the black community, it is our job to call out the anti-blackness we see around us.”
The phrase appeared in a promotional video for the event — which has been taken down — and was printed on the tickets for the dance. New tickets will be printed and distributed at the entrance as souvenirs, said SBHS Principal John Becchio.
“Basically, it all happened through ASB. Our students pretty much run that course,” Becchio said. He added that the ASB advisor, Rachel Roesch, was unaware of what the term meant. “The thing I was most concerned about was just to find out the intent of the kids,” he said, adding he was satisfied to find out they did not initially realize the racial connotation. “I believe them … [It’s] a generational thing.” Last year, the homecoming queen was a transgender student, Becchio noted. “They are really accepting,” he said.
“This was an innocent mistake,” student president Zevallos added. “We will continue to work hard to create a fun, memorable homecoming event.”