Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day of Dialogue at Washington Prep High

On May 20th, over 150 students participated in a school-wide Day of Dialogue at Washington Prep high school. Using a survey developed with input from faculty and students, the DOD allowed a cross-section of students a rare forum to express their concerns about campus security, college preparation, sexual harassment, homophobia, and adult-youth relations. Students from the Women’s Leadership Project and Leadership class facilitated. A recurring theme throughout the sessions was differences in the way certain groups of students were treated when it came to college preparation, college access, and mentoring. Some students felt that adults actively encouraged college-going among students in special programs such as the Magnet and AVID. Others praised individual teachers and counselors for providing guidance and concrete support by steering them to AP courses, tutoring, and scholarships. The majority felt Washington Prep did not have a college-going culture and that only the most motivated students were pushed to go on to a four year college. Another prominent issue was the lack of classes on racial/ethnic cultural history. Students felt that this kind of culturally relevant education would increase consciousness and defuse tension amongst different groups. One student expressed frustration that all Latinos were identified as “Mexicans” -- thereby ignoring the diversity of Latino heritage on campus.

The need to pushback against a culture of normalized sexual harassment at the school was a subject that polarized students along gender lines. After much prompting, girls articulated their outrage over the culture of casual harassment and sexualization that they experienced. Many girls were hesitant to identify their experiences as actual harassment (often assuming a blame-the-victim stance) but came forward with anecdotes about inappropriate comments teachers had made about girls’ bodies. One heated discussion prompted a group of boys to jeer that girls brought rape and sexual assault on themselves. Abuse and harassment by campus security was another persistent issue. During last November’s first day of dialogue session, some girls revealed that they or acquaintances of theirs had been contacted by campus security on Facebook and other social media. While girls were targets of harassment, several male and female students described being body-slammed by security. Students also addressed persistent homophobia on campus, with many believing that it was “ok” for girls to publicly identify as lesbian or bisexual while agreeing that a double standard existed for boys. The day of dialogue results will be tallied and reported to school staff, faculty, administration and students as part of the 2013-2014 school year climate assessment.

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