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Uprooting rape culture - The Sagamore

Uprooting rape culture - The Sagamore

Uprooting rape culture - The Sagamore

Posted: 16 Nov 2020 12:00 AM PST

The presentation swayed the administration, Noble said, putting a spotlight on an issue that had long been murky. They were convinced to address what she and Hitchcock-Smith had shown them was clearly in need of it.

As part of that commitment to address sexual violence, administrators agreed to hold annual teacher training days. These days will focus on explaining reporting policies and Title IX procedures. In September, Hitchcock-Smith and Noble were guest speakers at one of these virtual sessions, presenting their view of the student experience to the entire faculty.

"We spoke about how all of this starts way back in middle school and progresses over the years to snowball into this weird conglomerate of rape culture, misogyny, low-self esteem for girls and all of these things that play into each other," Noble said. "We talked about students' experiences over the years, and it struck a chord with a lot of teachers."

Spanish teacher Astrid Allen said that the students' presentation was impactful because it challenged her assumption about the school's trustful identity.

"We pride ourselves on having a strong community where the kids can know and trust the adults, and yet this was happening for many years and people didn't feel safe coming forward," Allen said. "I want to know what we can do, as a faculty, to promote that trust, so that if something were to happen in our community in the future, students feel comfortable coming forward."

While some teachers and administrators may have been surprised at the pervasiveness of sexual violence, many students and organizers have learned, often through lived experience, to expect it. For Casey Corcoran, Director of Youth Sexual Violence Prevention Education at BARCC, the question is not whether rape culture exists at any given high school, but what can be done.

"It's the sea we swim in culturally," Corcoran said. "So of course it's present at a high school. I would say that students see and witness examples of rape culture all the time, they just may not be able to identify it as such. We need to give people the tools to identify, label and decode it, because then we can actually deal with it. This is an issue that thrives on darkness, so the more we shine a light on it, the better it's going to be."

Hitchcock-Smith and Noble recognized this need as well. Partnering with Uttaro, who has had extensive training in the field, they created Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Warriors. The program is made up of students, teachers and administrators working together to educate students and address rape culture at the high school.

But to be able to do that effectively, Noble said, SHARP Warriors needs to start by having conversations amongst themselves.

"It's all about bringing the right energy and honesty. Being radically open about everything. That's what we're here to do," Noble said. "Making that powerful openness really empowers people to take it a step further, to take it outside of the group and to their friend groups, to their families. Ultimately, the goal is to change the culture."

Hitchcock-Smith said that cultural education is the way to make changes to the climate of the high school, whether that education happens through assemblies, in-class workshops or lessons at middle schools.

"We've got a month by month plan on how we're going to get that done," Hitchcock-Smith said. "We're thinking about how we meet with middle schoolers and talk to them about these issues, how we make these conversations happen for younger and younger students so everybody learns it earlier."

With such grand goals, Uttaro said it has been important for the team to keep many paths of action open.

"We know that changing a culture is not something that happens overnight," Uttaro said. "We've talked about doing a clothesline project, having a group with just men, working with parents. There's so many things that we're planning."

Although many things cannot happen in remote or socially distant learning, SHARP Warriors has been able to put together a trajectory of future projects to chip away at the problem. According to Uttaro, the ability to work with the seniors as equal partners has not happened before and has been uniquely beneficial for everyone.

"There are things that adults and administrators like me can do, but I'm limited because I'm not a senior in high school. We see different things from what you all experience, and you have a voice and a power based on your own personal experiences that I cannot access," Uttaro said. "At the same time, Meg and Alex are not in the kinds of school policy conversations that I'm in. So they inform what I'm doing, I inform what they're doing, and we work together like that."


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