This year, in an email to students, staff, and parents, district 308 Superintendent Dr. John Sparlin announced that “for the first time in SD308 history, we have student ambassadors who not only attend and participate in Board of Education meetings, they are also co-leading the Superintendent Student Advisory Committee.” The student ambassadors kicked off their first interactions with students with a voluntary survey attempting to identify important issues that students felt needed to be addressed. After results piled in, the student ambassadors released that the main concern among students is sexual harassment.
The student advisory board has identified the sexual harassment issue in our schools and district; now, what can we actually start doing to fix it?
I’ll start by saying that creating a student advisory committee solely made of student ambassadors is a giant leap in the right direction. Having the ability to use the voices of actual students who walk the hallways of our different schools to speak on their behalf and amplify student voices by allowing them to participate in school board meetings is innovative and exactly what every school district should be doing.
As amazing as that is, let’s not let it get in the way of actually getting the job done.
To start this conversion, it is important to look at the Student Survey Memo presentation the student advisory board created to understand the plan in place and the “next steps” outlined after learning of the sexual harassment issue at hand. They simply said the plan was to research steps to analyze and conceptualize data, brainstorm how sexual harassment occurs, and finally utilize the data and research gathered to best address sexual harassment in schools.
The student advisory board seems to be leaning already towards educating people on how to identify sexual harassment in schools. The initial survey it gave to students asked several questions pertaining to whether or not a certain situation should be deemed as sexual harassment, and whether or not students think their peers can identify such situations.
Students deserve a safe space to learn, not one riddled with students who are constantly afraid of being sexualized.
Identifying is a huge part of stopping sexual harassment because not only does it go hand in hand with educating students on what sexual harassment is, but it also teaches students what actions are not acceptable.
As a student, I think it is equally or even more important that staff and educators are highly educated on sexual harassment, how to identify it, and most importantly how to address it appropriately. I feel most students victims of sexual harassment don’t come forward because they are afraid of how it will be perceived: will people believe them? Will they think they deserved what happened to them? Will they even care at all?
Guidelines on reporting and a no-tolerance policy for staff and students exist, but to begin addressing this problem, staff should have strict guidelines beyond reporting, outlining exactly how to intervene, respond, and stop sexual harassment when they see it.
Students deserve a safe space to learn, not one riddled with students who are constantly afraid of being sexualized. The district needs to make a stand against sexual harassment and begin to execute education plans, guidelines, and training for students and staff.
I am excited to see what the student advisory board does with the data it has collected, and I put my faith in them that, as students, they will lend a helping hand to their peers who do not have as big a voice as they do.