A principal in Queens, New York City, sparked outrage among staffers, students and parents after a bizarre wall mural in her school depicted her as a Hindu goddess. In the colourful but gaudy artwork that 40-year-old Rushell White ordered to be hung above the rear exercise lot of her school in South Ozone Park, she can be seen as a six-armed deity. Critics were quick to express their anger, saying it was inappropriate of White, who practices Christianity, to portray herself as a Hindu deity on school premises.
“It’s disrespectful to another person’s religion,” said one parent who requested anonymity. “You can’t be a god. Religion shouldn’t even be in the school anyway.”
The caption for the artwork quotes the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament, “To whom much is given much is required.”
White refused to comment on the matter. “I can’t comment on that,” she said to a reporter.
Even though specific numbers have not been made available, insiders claim approximately a third of JHS 226’s students hail from Hindu households.
A sixth-grade student, who identified as Hindu, told Atheist Republic that the mural was deeply upsetting.
“It makes me feel bad about my culture,” said the girl, who asked that her name be withheld. “When I first saw it, I was like, ‘Wow, why did they do that? They should take it down.’”
The large canvas was brought down four days after it was installed, when staffers started to complain and Education Department officials arrived at the scene to investigate.
JHS 226 staffers as well as city officials allege White’s behavior as school principal has been more devilish and less godly. In 2012, multiple staffers accused her of cheating in state exams but an official investigation failed to prove those claims. White is also being investigated by city officials for failing to report complaints of child abuse and other offences in her school. She also is involved in a federal lawsuit that states White made anti-Semitic comments to assistant principal, David Possner, who too is depicted in the controversial mural as a shrunken man lurking in the corner.
If initial media reports are to be believed, it was Possner that leaked images of the mural to the press.
“The mural is basically mocking the Hindu community,” said Possner, who alleged in his lawsuit that White had referred to him as a “bad Jew” after seeing him use his phone on Yom Kippur in 2014.
Possner, who has worked as an educator in the city for over 19 years, is now seeking a transfer out of the school. He said he was humiliated by his depiction in the wall mural endorsed by White.
“It was very hurtful,” Possner said. “Clearly, this is retaliation for my suit.”
Education Department officials have been investigating White’s role in the creation of the mural, which was supposed to be a student art project produced by a nonprofit that was contracted to offer art lessons at JHS 226.
As a matter of fact, White has a clean disciplinary history barring the results of the ongoing investigations into her conduct. She has worked with the city’s education system since 1998 and currently earns a yearly salary of $140,813.
Education Department spokesperson Devora Kaye said White removed the mural after consulting with a district superintendent.
Soon after White’s controversy hit the headlines, Rajan Zed, a Hindu activist, reached out to Education Department chancellor, Carmen Farina, and New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, demanding an apology on White’s behalf. He said deities such as the one depicted in the mural at JHS 226 are highly revered in Hinduism and worshipped in only temples or home shrines and should not be depicted inappropriately or loosely for any sort of dramatic effect.
“Inappropriate usage of Hinduism concepts and symbols for pushing selfish agenda is not okay,” he said in a statement.
Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, pointed out that the mural was unnecessary while urging the Education Department to issue a disclaimer about the incident on their website along with proper explanations about Hindu goddesses.
“Hinduism is the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought and it should not be taken frivolously,” Zed stressed. “No faith, larger or smaller, should be ridiculed at. … Hindus understand that the purpose of this school mural was not to denigrate Hinduism, but casual flirting like this sometimes results in pillaging serious spiritual doctrines and revered symbols and hurting the devotees.”
He concluded, saying educational institutions in the United States need to learn more about Hinduism.
Photo Credits: New York Daily News