give ballard students rights

give ballard students rights

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haleigh witten started this petition to principal wynkoop

Dear Principal Wynkoop

 

        One thing is abundantly clear after the interpersonal violence awareness week that happened between 4/22 and 4/26- nothing has changed. After Friday’s assembly, the consensus about the week and the assembly itself among students was that it was useless at best, and regressive at worst. I ask you, what else could it be? Some students became fearful that if they reported an assault that happened to them in relation to drugs and alcohol, they themselves would be in trouble. And were the talking points not just a rehash of what was said last year? If anything, there was less effort this time around. Where were all the posters with the assault statistics from last year? Why did so few of the teachers engage in the conversations during dam time? That was supposed to be a key aspect of students developing their ideas about the subject. The majority of the assembly, to its credit, was about consent, but rarely did the speakers touch on the subject of interpersonal violence, or, more specifically, sexual assault. It even was politicized, and that’s not appropriate for the situation at hand. Single payer healthcare and free tampons have absolutely nothing to do with the grave importance of the topic at hand, and by including those things the school has continued to build an environment where conservative students would hesitate to participate in positive change because the school continues to twist what good change is. Yes, it is true that the federal government is suffering from a partisan divide on sexual assault, of all things, but it is certainly not true on the state level, where Republican state senator Joe Fain was accused of raping a woman, and he actively encouraged the investigation on top of fighting for respect to the accuser, even when, of course, his self-defense argument made her seem like she was twisting or incorrectly remembering the facts. Nonetheless, there is no reason for the school to reinforce that partisanship. Non liberal leaning people can care about sexual assault, especially here at this school, where in 2017 60.2% of students said they had known a victim of assault, and where 12.5% have said they have been assaulted.

 

        One notable thing about the assembly was the topic of rape culture, which was brought up a few times. It is no secret that the school has a growing toxic culture surrounding race and sexuality, but we must have no illusions, the reason why sexual violence is so rampant in this environment is because the school has effectively built a system which undermines the victim and supports the perpetrator. When someone suffers from an assault, before they go to any authorities, they will usually go to their friends or family for support. I know this from personal experience; I have had people come to me for support more than once. So I find it absolutely unacceptable that students feel that they cannot talk to their friends without fearing future punishment from the school. I’d like to pull a quote from January’s edition of the Talisman, where an anonymous person felt that she couldn’t talk to her friends about what had happened. “We weren’t allowed to tell anyone, because if anyone we told tried to fight him, we would get suspended, not the person who fought him, and not him.” You did not deny this, to quote yourself- “No matter what other discipline is taking place, if emotions stay heightened that doesn’t allow for things to calm down, for people to move on. We can’t make things better for both of you unless you agree to that situation.” I’m not entirely certain the school administration is aware what this does to victims. The school has effectively created an environment where the school is the only way a victim can deal with the trauma of sexual violence, and the school staff is largely not trained to help or, more importantly, to prevent that trauma.

 

I can’t help but recall what I saw just this tuesday. A guy was following a girl around, trying to talk to her, to the point where he had her cornered. One of the special education teachers came over and asked if everything was ok, and when the guy said “yeah”, and when clearly the girl was trying to get away, the teacher just walked away as well. Nobody did anything. And I’m to blame too. It was the heat of the moment, they ran off, and I chickened out. By the time passing period had ended, there would be no witnesses to protect the girl anymore. The school had failed, and the students had failed, because both entities are scared of taking any aggressive action, even just intervening with words, out of fear of punishment. The teachers were far too passive to get anything of significance done, and passiveness is not a solution to assault.

 

I recall another time, a story a friend told me that I think happened in the Orchestra classroom last year. A senior was getting handsy with freshman girls. One girl goes up and tells the teacher. What does the teacher do? He says “keep your hands to yourself” to the class in general, not the guilty party. The senior, ultimately, did not keep his hands to himself. Additionally, it is clear that the school administration as a whole didn’t take this week seriously. My teachers told me that they were alerted about the plans for dam time discussions on these issues, at best, the day before they were supposed to happen. These people are not trained to talk about this stuff, let alone to respond to situations whey they happen. The school cannot and should not prevent victims from doing something as basic as seeking emotional help from their friends when the school is not supplying that emotional help and support either. Additionally, for some people, the path to healing does not include reporting instances of assault to authorities. Some people do not want to struggle with punishing the perpetrator, and all modern psychology views this as a perfectly legitimate stance for a victim. It is the stance my friends took. I suggested that they talk to an adult, and ultimately they decided it was not the best for them, and I respect that, because even when the school recognizes someone as a perpetrator, the best that happens usually is that they get moved to a different class. There was a case in 2018 where the punishment was more extreme for a more extreme action, but even that case was filled with mistakes by the school. You probably remember Demonte Rigney. You probably remember the case that happened surrounding him, how he had assaulted someone in a school bathroom. You might remember the claims of one of the prosecutors that said that someone from the school staff had come to court in Rigney’s defense, and I most sincerely hope that you remember what a school district representative had said about the case. "The physical and emotional safety of our students is our highest priority." As far as the students here know, he was moved to a different school for the rest of his high school career, simply made to be someone else's problem. No justice, no healing, no solution.

 

To end this letter, I want to make this one thing clear. The toxic culture surrounding sexuality and violence at Ballard is the reason why a lot of these assault problems exist. But make no mistake; until teachers are trained to deal with these situations, until they are actively involved in the fight against sexual violence, and until the administration changes it’s policies radically in relation to sexual violence, the school is absolutely liable for the strength the toxic culture at ballard has.

 

In health class, we should be addressing sexual violence with the same intensity and intricacy that we address drugs and alcohol, for instance, instead of simply going over unhealthy kinds of relationships, we need to delve deep into the topic of relationship violence and marital rape, both things of which happen at an incredibly high rate in america. Also, instead of just throwing a bunch of crisis hotlines at students and hoping for the best, we should try to develop a culture at school of mutual help and care through dam time talks that are planned well in advance, I’d say at least a week. These Dam time conversations can work, after all, a lot of the criticism I heard about Friday’s assembly came in detail from Friday’s Dam time conversation. If we take more time to work on these conversations, and maybe make suggestion sheets that students can privately give to the teacher at the end of class with their ideas, I am certain we can make these conversations into something very productive.

 

 And to the extent that teachers are responsible for the safety of students, they need to be trained to help them in terms of talking to students about assault, how to intervene in situations of inappropriate behavior, and good resources to direct students to in times of crisis. Adults need to set the right example for kids, and kids just aren’t getting that example right now. Until these things are achieved, there is no point in repeating the same talking points about sexual violence when it has not accomplished its goal. Things need the change, and as long as kids are legally required to go to school, it remains in the power of people like you to help these kids for the better. I hope that you can soon take that necessary action.

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