by Casey Keane
Vera House Inc. of Syracuse, NY has a mission: “to end all domestic and sexual violence, to assist families in crisis, to support those affected by domestic and sexual violence to live safe, self-sufficient lives, to empower women and children, and to promote a culture of equality and respect in all relationships,” according to their website. This mission was incorporated into the Jamesville-DeWitt community last year when an incident involving sexual harassment among students was brought to the high school administration’s attention. After this incident last year, health teacher Melissa Moore, and Principal Paul Gasparini, with the help of the Building Level Team and Vera House, introduced a program known as the Mentors In Violence Protection to the J-D community.
The latest step in the process of The Mentors in Violence Prevention Program happened on Friday, Nov. 6, when two educators from Vera House came to J-DHS with a five-hour long presentation that discussed Gender Roles, Types of Abuse, Sexual Harassment, Alcohol and Consent, and Homophobia. Forty-six students attended this meeting to learn about these topics and from there learn how to be a leader and relay this information to their peers in and possibly to other friends outside the J-DHS community.
The premise of MVP and this meeting was to talk about ideas that affect teens, but are not part of regular conversation. The topic, gender roles, is a set of norms society places on a certain genders that proscribe how boys and girls should behave and act. The many different kinds of abuse, such as verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, were also discussed. It is very important to know the signs so if someone sees any kind of abuse, they can do something to prevent it. Homophobia is the dislike of homosexual people and with this meeting, people learned the signs of it and the ways to educate others about the topic before someone judges. Everyone who attended this meeting learned important leadership qualities and how they can educate the J-D community on these topics.
The attendees were invited to the first meeting and from there, the student would decide if they wanted to continue on to the training program and future meetings. Sophomore Hadar Pepperstone was contacted by Mrs. Moore to come to the MVP meetings. “We had some really good discussions and there were a lot of different views that were in the room but also a lot of similarities. We all really valued what we were there for. Also, some of the stuff we watched like people bullying a girl...it was really terrible to watch what they were doing to her and that’s something we’re trying to prevent,” says Pepperstone.
Junior Giovanni Antonucci said the meeting, “Was a lot like Health class,” but a lot more in-depth. Upon arrival to the meeting, everyone got involved in a group discussion and was asked about their own personal opinions on the topics. “A topic we talked about was sexual harassment and the difference between that and flirting,” says Antonucci. “For me, the most interesting part was when the educators were saying what you should do in instances you see sexual harassment,” says Antonucci. Not only was this the most interesting for him, it was also the most important.
Senior Sidrat Rahman said the most interesting part for her was when the group got to watch videos from the TV show, “What Would You Do.” According to Google, this TV show uses hidden cameras to observe and comment on “how ordinary people behave when they are confronted with dilemmas that require them either to take action or to walk by and mind their own business.” Rahman said that after watching an episode, the group had the opportunity to discuss the people’s reactions to the girl being bullied, and this was a highlight of the meeting for her. Talking about stereotypes was also one of the most interesting parts for Rahman because, as she says, “society is such a judgemental thing and those are the things we should be focusing on.”
Mrs. Moore also attended the meeting, and believed it went really well. “It was interactive, the students participated, questions were asked and answered,” says Mrs. Moore. Mrs. Moore also said she thought, “the students there got a lot of information that maybe they’ve heard before but it went more in-depth.”
Rahman says the most important thing from the MVP meeting wasn’t something that was necessarily discussed but it something that can be taken from all the information. “The most important thing I learned from the meeting was not to be judgemental and know who you are and what you value. Don’t be afraid to step up for yourself and to step up for others that are in the same situation as you or someone you know,” says Rahman.
Antonucci saysthe next step for those who attended the meeting is to become peer educators and mentors for other students. “We’re going to relay the information to everyone in the school,” says Antonuuci.