By Meghan Byrnes and Morgan Brang
Since the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, students have been discussing Jamesville-DeWitt High School’s sexual harassment policies with teachers and the administration. Some students were concerned that female victims may not feel comfortable discussing instances of harassment with the all-male administration, and some had doubts about the overall system’s ability to handle instances of sexual harassment. On Monday March 16, a Building Level Team (BLT) meeting was held to discuss options moving forward for improving how J-DHS handles and prevents sexual harassment.
Students and faculty sat in room G01 on March 16 with ideas concerning our sexual harassment policies running through their heads. The meeting started with senior student government president Josh Gutmaker presenting his four goals aimed at improving how J-DHS handles sexual harassment and increasing prevention efforts. The first of those goals is to administer a school wide survey to fully understand how the school feels about this issue. Additional training for both teachers and students are the second and third goals Gutmaker presented. He and other students hope to see an improvement to the the training given to teachers and have students receive education about sexual harassment and how to prevent it every year. The final goal is to create an advocacy center specifically for victims of sexual assault, where victims feel comfortable going and where faculty can help them through the difficult process of reporting instances of sexual harassment and assault.
To try and achieve some of those goals to the best of their ability, the administration brought in outside help. Members from Vera House were brought in to discuss a program they offer that could be adopted at J-DHS to help better the current system in place. This program focuses mainly on educating students about sexual harassment and what it is in an attempt to foster a group of students who can become peer leaders at school. The idea is that these students would then spread the information that they learned, and instances of sexual harassment would be prevented. These peer leaders would also serve as people to go to with reports of sexual harassment, making a more comfortable environment to talk about these types of situations.
Principal Paul Gasparini had nothing but positive things to say about the way the meeting went and the future of J-DHS. The conversation about sexual harassment concerns was first brought to the BLT in October of 2014, and since then Mr. Gasparini, students, and the BLT have been working hard to make J-DHS a “welcoming, positive climate all the time for everybody,” said Mr. Gasparini. When George Kilpatrick from the Vera House called asking Mr. Gasparini if he would be interested in their Mentors in Violence Prevention Program, Mr. Gasparini was interested right away. The group from the Vera House then presented at the BLT meeting. “I thought the program they presented was very interesting,” said Mr. Gasparini. “The questions now become: what can they do for us, who is the target audience, who would be involved, and who would be trained?” After processing that information, the next potential step that has been brought up by a group of seniors is a school wide census with questions about sexual harassment and the climate within the school. This could be a way to collect information from the entire student body and provide the next step of action. However, this type of survey could be difficult to issue and get accurate results. Despite the complexity, Mr. Gasparini looks forward to working with the student government in order to try and conduct a survey and improve the climate at J-DHS.
The students who chose to attend the BLT meeting did so for various reasons, but most were pleased with how the meeting went. “I thought it was really interesting to hear what the Vera House representatives had to say, and I think that if we were to implement a program like that it would be really effective and it could really help change things at our school,” said senior Tal Frieden. Frieden added that he recently heard about a study done within the Navy where a three minute video educating trainees significantly decreased the instances of sexual harassment within the training camps, which had been a problem for them. This leads Frieden to believe that some sort of training or education program for students and teachers at J-DHS would do the same. Senior student government president Hunter Siegel felt like the climate of the meeting was helpful, saying “the student dialogue and the way that Mr. Gasparini was interacting with us and hearing information was also really beneficial.” Senior Gabby Simiele was pleased at the presentation given by the Vera House but added that because of the presentation style of the meeting, there wasn’t much discussion in the group. “I certainly look forward to, in hopefully the near future, having a little more discussion about it,” said Simiele. Gutmaker looks forward to working with the Vera House and their program in the future, but acknowledged that the BLT meeting was “the beginning of a long discussion.”
Moving forward, students who attended the meeting are hoping that the administration takes the Vera House’s program into consideration and brings it to J-DHS. “It will help only if we allow it to. If we decide to act on the information presented to us, I think it will be very beneficial,” said Simiele. There will be another BLT meeting held on April 13, where the logistics of using the Vera House’s program will be discussed. “I really belive in the philosopy that any thing worth doing is worth doing well,” said Mr. Gasparini. His goal is to work together with student leadership and develop a meaningful and educative solution to the concerns brought up.