Pink Ink Plague campaign demands school does more

Rejected senior t-shirt design inspires social media campaign



Logo for the Pink Ink Plague campaign

For the first time, New Trier held a senior t-shirt design contest, the winning design to be selected by the vote of the senior class. 

Senior Grace Koehler submitted a design that pictured a plague doctor with the text “I survived the plague.” 

A “plague doctor” is an 18th century image showing how doctors protected themselves when treating victims of the bubonic plague. They wore beaked masks, the beak filled with aromatic substances like herbs and dried flowers in the belief it would keep them from inhaling infectious particles.

It’s not about me and it’s not about a t-shirt. It’s about a school who won’t listen to its student body even when they’re talking about their experiences with being parts of marginalized groups

— Grace Koehler

But the senior adviser chairs rejected Koehler’s design because it didn’t fit the criteria of being a celebration of the senior class, according to Senor Girls’ Adviser Chair Susie Paunan. 

“Any design that didn’t fit the theme of celebrating the class of 2021 were not included, but students were given the opportunity to submit a new design fitting the theme,” Paunan said. 

While the adviser chairs deemed the design insensitive, Koehler said she didn’t intend a literal interpretation of her design. 

“I intended it to be a symbol of issues that students had faced both universal and personal, and pride for overcoming those with an element of humor,” said Koehler. “Then they said it was disqualified on the grounds it used the word ‘plague’ and had imagery of a plague doctor.” 

Koehler expressed her frustrations on social media, where people supported her and voiced interest in purchasing the t-shirt. 

Instead of personally profiting from the shirts, she said she wanted to do something productive with the proceeds. So, she started a campaign, the Pink Ink Plague, to raise awareness of some of her criticisms of the administration’s policies and decisions.

Koehler created an Instagram page ( that calls attention to the ways she believes the school has fallen short of listening to its students. Specifically, the campaign questions New Trier’s same-sex adviser system, the way the school took control of the student gun violence walk-out in 2018, and its discontinuation of Seminar Day after some parents angrily charged that its content pushed a political agenda. 

The Instagram page also links to a website which has links to petitions regarding those issues. 

Buttons and t-shirts with the plague doctor design are also up for sale, all proceeds to be donated to Amnesty International USA. Where her initial submitted design was in white, the design is now in pink (pink being opposite green on the color wheel) to symbolize the “denouncement of the ‘traditions’ that New Trier hides behind to maintain the status quo,” according to one of the Instagram posts.

The original design submitted to the senior t-shirt design contest (Koehler)

Thus far, Koehler has sold 25 t-shirts, and 9 buttons.

Shortly following the creation of the Instagram page, the school contacted Koehler’s mother which resulted in a Zoom call during which they reiterated the reasons they disqualified her design. 

“When I asked about the issues I presented [on the Instagram page], they said there were plans to address the problems, [but] they couldn’t tell me what the plans were and there was no place I could find updates on those plans,” Koehler said.

Koehler felt the school misunderstood her intentions.

“[The call] seemed to focus on me and my grievances as a New Trier student and I don’t think the person I was talking with really understood the gravity of what this means for other people,” she said. “It’s not about me and it’s not about a t-shirt. It’s about a school who won’t listen to its student body even when they’re talking about their experiences with being parts of marginalized groups.” 

Despite the administration’s response to the design, many students have generally been receiving the design and the cause of the campaign well, Koehler reports.

“The ones that have been critical have been very respectful and were more about the design than the issues it was representing,” Koehler said. “Then I’ve gotten some messages from people who say they are very glad that someone is addressing this and that they don’t feel these issues are being addressed by New Trier.”