Far from Hollywood, students share stories of sexual harassment on campus

BEHIND THE CURTAIN, actresses have been victimized and left voiceless. They’ve felt objectified, sexualized. Then last month Harvey Weinstein, an influential producer, was accused by dozens of celebrities, and the curtain started to fall.

Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne, Kate Beckinsale and many more finally raised their voice. Courageously, these actresses gave testimony against sexual abuse and harassment.

Before sharing their experiences, the actresses felt that Weinstein was untouchable. Because of his power, these women almost felt obligated to remain silent. They feared being blacklisted by the industry.

The hashtag “Me Too” originated from a post by actress Alyssa Milano. The movement encouraged women to speak about a topic not usually discussed. Numerous stories surfaced around the world. Women were opening up to the harsh realities associated with sexual harassment.

The trauma is not only present in Hollywood. It is also present on high school campuses.

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“I was wearing my cheer uniform,” a senior said. It was last school year when she was walking into her classroom and noticed the substitute. Later, while sitting with friends, the substitute approached them. As he began to talk, she soon felt uncomfortable by his comments. “‘You know what’s my favorite part about seeing cheerleaders perform?’” she reports the substitute as saying. “‘When their skirts lift up.’” The girls looked at each other. “We all felt weirded out.”

A junior felt uncomfortable in one of her classes freshman year because of the teacher’s constant sexual remarks. “The boys would laugh, but to me, it wasn’t funny.” She remembers him saying, in reference to his wife, “‘I fell in love with her cookie.’” Another day in his class, she was sitting on her desk when he poked her on the chest. “He thought there was a star on my sweater, but I know he made that up in that moment.”

Some students insist this kind of atmosphere has become far too common. Though they say it is frequent, they still feel appalled by such remarks. Even males have voiced their disapproval.

“I hate seeing people taking advantage of others and making them feel uncomfortable,” senior Christopher Steed said, referring to such interactions.

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A senior recalls sitting at her desk this year. She was looking at her phone, which was placed between her legs. As her teacher noticed, she apologized for having the phone out. “‘Are you sure you weren’t playing with yourself?’” she remembers him asking.

The thought of reporting this teacher was nearly impossible, she said. She felt as if her words wouldn’t be trusted, which is a common fear among victims. “Who are they going to believe? Me or the teacher?”

While Principal Andre Phillips has stated that he has not received any complaints of this nature regarding any permanent teacher, he urges students who feel they have been sexually harassed to come to his office to file a complaint. “I am disheartened and must assert that this type of behavior is intolerable,” he said. For those who worry about their name being used, he added, “We have a process in place to ensure all parties’ privacy are protected.”

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Compliments from a teacher can sometimes go too far.

One senior said she is experiencing that in one of her classes. “He compliments me almost every day.” she said. Other than her appearance, the teacher compliments her body, she said. “One day, he implied (because of the sport she plays) that I have a big butt.” She felt extremely unsettled, but she chose to “dust it off.”

Counselor Samantha Wirzberger guesses students might feel like it’s their fault when such comments are said. “Girls often feel they create the problem. Maybe the way they dress and the way they talk makes them feel like they’re asking for it. Which is obviously not necessarily true.”

A junior also experienced receiving inappropriate comments regarding her body. In the beginning of the year, she was walking to her class when she noticed a teacher she’d never seen before. She said she felt the teacher was looking at her body. “He said he wanted to touch my butt,” she said. The teacher then asked her if she could come into his classroom later that day, she added. Sickened after his proposal, she threatened to report him if he continued talking to her. She’s never seen him since.

Last year a junior was wearing shorts when she felt her teacher was staring at her. “I caught him looking at my legs,” the student said. She felt disappointed because of what happened. “He was my favorite teacher.” Weeks later, she was wearing leggings and once again caught her teacher looking at her. She tried to transfer out of his class after that but it was too late in the semester. “I just decided to move seats away from his sight.”

Other students have expressed similar stories of inappropriate comments and gestures.

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Although most cases go unreported, senior Margarita Thomas knew she had to report her experience to Phillips after talking to her mother. This occurred during her junior year. For that day, she had a substitute in her class. “The whole period he kept talking to me,” Thomas said. The substitute asked her personal questions and attempted to relate to her to continue their conversation. He asked where she lived, where she liked to eat and what she enjoyed doing. To Thomas, these questions seemed intrusive. She made it clear she didn’t want to talk to him, though he persisted.

“I asked to leave class but it was just an excuse. I didn’t want to be there.” She went to the Career Center to escape his interrogation. The bell rang and she returned to the classroom to get her belongings. This is when the substitute allegedly made a startling remark that upset her greatly. Later on that day, she saw him in the hallway and she recalled that he winked at her. His misconduct prompted her to file a complaint. Since doing so, she hasn’t seen the man anywhere near school grounds.

Girls on campus often choose to forget their ordeal rather than going through the process of reporting the conduct.

The first step in the complaint process is notifying an adult. “They can go to anybody,” Phillips said. “They can go to a counselor or a trusted teacher, who will then relay that information to one of the administrators.” Students also have the option of going straight to him.

For those who are hesitant to come forward due to the fear of their name being revealed, Phillips urges that it is all confidential. “When we do the investigation, we refer to the students as student A, student B, student C, and so on.”

“It’s never too late to come forward, especially if you feel like that person could hurt somebody else,” Thomas said. “Don’t feel that what you say doesn’t matter.” She encourages all to have a voice.

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School board policy states that sexual harassment on school grounds consists of “unwanted verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature made against another person of the same or opposite sex.” With little or sometimes no exposure to this subject, students may fail to realize what’s happening to them. In some cases, students are not fully aware that this can be reported.

At the start of a new school year, a student handbook is given to everybody. In it, rules are spelled out, such as dress code and other school policies. Not one of the 48 pages is dedicated to the protocol regarding sexual harassment.

To senior Areli Hinojosa, a topic like this needs to be addressed and should be taken seriously. “Just as we have suicide and drug abuse awareness, this conversation shouldn’t be brushed under the rug as if it’s not happening every day in any school campus.”

Because of lack of information, Hinojosa believes that students have not come forward or even considered the idea of it

“It needs to be told. It needs to be addressed during assemblies or on posters,” junior Ciana Buenrostro said.

A “support system” should be installed on campus, said counselor Kevin Oki. “It’s unacceptable and unprofessional that this behavior is displayed.”

Shocked at the frequency of these unknown cases, Wirzberger agrees with Oki. “An anonymous box is needed in the main office and in Healthy Start,” she said. By this, she hopes students would come forward without hesitation. “Students probably think it’ll affect their grade if they report, but that’s retaliation.”

Wirzberger has dealt with student-on-student harassment but was unaware of teacher-on-student interaction. She hasn’t had any students speak to her about the topic. “It’s hard to face a counselor and tell them what’s going on, but if people don’t speak we’re not going to know.”

It upsets her that students aren’t coming to her, but she encourages them to speak up. “Don’t be afraid. Chances are if it’s happening to you it’s happening to someone else.” She welcomes students during lunch and after school if they wish to speak about their experiences.

“No one coming to school should be subject to that type of harassment.”