Students Speak Out on Sexual Assault

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Tessa Moskoff

Annika Spilde (12) delivers closing remarks at the walkout on Friday, September 10th.

Lily Nobel, Staff Reporter

On September 10th, many students of Fairview participated in a walkout in support of sexual assault survivors and in protest of sexual violence. This peaceful protest, following the walkout of last spring, was the work of independent student group BVSD Survivors and organized by Annika Spilde with long-distance help from co-organizers and Fairview graduates Beatrice Sanchez and Sophie Dellinger.

“We’ve walked out before,” reads the graphic posted to the BVSD Survivors Instagram to promote the walkout. “But now we do it to demand actual change for our community, our survivors, and those who have been affected by the actions and words of our administrators.”

Spilde ensured this walkout was approved by the school ahead of time, so students wouldn’t be penalized for participating. 

“I’ve heard people who were like, what’s the point if they approve it? But the point is so people can feel safe protesting, because part of the fact of being in the US is the freedom to assemble and the freedom to protest,” said Spilde. 

Preceding speeches by students and a representative from Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA), Spilde introduced the walkout’s message:

“We’re angry that not a lot has changed. We’re angry that, despite our efforts, we’ve not had an administration or a district really prove to us that they truly support survivors. We’re continuing to see BVSD fail us,” she said. 

In an interview earlier that day, Spilde acknowledged the effort put in by Terry Gillach, the current acting principal. 

“To be honest, we’ve never had a principal do that,” she said, in reference to the upcoming “listening sessions” promised in a 9/10 email to students and parents. In these sessions, students will have the opportunity to speak and ask questions directly of the principal. “We’ve never had the school give students an open forum to come talk to the principal and say, hey, this isn’t working. What can we do about it? I think all of the responsibility for the stuff that’s been going on at Fairview shouldn’t be put on Mr. Gillach.”

Following Spilde’s introduction, junior Begum Batan spoke. 

“Throughout my time here, I have personally witnessed students at Fairview being forced into extremely uncomfortable situations,” said Batan. “I have taken it upon myself to stand up and help report these cases. But this is not a battle meant to be fought alone. In recent years at Fairview, female students have found it increasingly difficult to come to school. […] We need transparency, and honesty, and we ask for reassurance to know that action is being taken. It’s time to change the previous generation’s norms concerning sexual assault.”

Next was junior Suzanna Wald, whose own recent experience with reporting sexual harassment at Fairview influenced the walkout.

“[After reporting the incident], I was pulled out of class and I was told ‘boys will be boys,’ and that it was ‘an honest mistake,’” said Wald. “This is where the ‘girls will be girls’ statement in our school has come to be. I am very disappointed in Administration’s response to my report and how they communicated with me and other witnesses.”

The alleged “boys will be boys” response by former Dean of Students Nick Lenk to Wald’s report spurred action around the school, with sticky notes and posters reading “girls will be girls,” among other anti-assault and pro-action messages put up around the school. 

Junior Janya Singh was the final speaking representative of BVSD Survivors. Singh discussed the fear and danger of sexual assault she sees as prevalent for women, and misunderstood by men. 

“A lot of men don’t understand what women go through daily,” she said. “How many of us have walked alone with another person, and have had to consistently turn around to walk, to make sure that there wasn’t anyone behind us, especially if it was a man? How many of us carry some sort of protection everywhere you go?”

According to a 2007 study by the US National Library of Medicine, approximately 47% of all women alter things they need to do and 71% alter things they want to do due to victimization concerns. 33.4% report carrying a weapon/self defense mechanism such as a spiked keychain, pepper spray, a knife, or a gun. 

Following the student speakers, sexual violence prevention educator Raymond Garcia spoke on behalf of MESA. He introduced advocates present on the field to speak to students looking for support. Then, he went on to discuss rape culture at Fairview, referencing the phrase ‘boys will be boys,’ as alleged in the incident with the former dean. 

“’Boys will be boys’ is an excuse, used to permit and facilitate rape culture,” said Garcia. “Rape culture is more than physical, sexual violence. It is allowing sexual harassment to go unchecked. It is a community where sexist jokes are the norm. […] Rape culture is a failure of believing survivors. Permitting locker room talk to go unchecked, and not holding ‘good kids’ accountable, allows sexual violence to fester and escalate. There is no such thing as a sexist joke that is harmless, an unwanted hug that’s just ‘friendly,’ or a non-consensual photo […] that is innocent.”

Additionally, he explicitly addressed men in the audience: “I would like to speak now, as a man, to the other male-identifying people in attendance. There is nothing manly about the oppression of women. […] There is no pride in making your classmates, the women and girls you grew up with, feel unsafe. Masculinity is having the strength, the courage, and the integrity to stand up to your peers, and to speak out against misogyny, rape culture, and sexual violence.”

Finally, senior and Student Council president Nimita Ankireddypalli requested more from the school district. 

“Although there has been progress made, such as with the introduction of the Title IX Advisory Council, it’s not enough. These actions that are being taken by the administration are comparable to putting a band-aid on a broken leg,” she said. “A ‘solution’ is being preemptively produced before understanding the pervasiveness of the problem.”

Before and after the speeches, students in attendance articulated a variety of reasons for participating in the walkout, but many expressed frustration with the administration. 

“We’re out here today because what the administration said was completely wrong. What they’ve done in the past is wrong. The current principal is trying to fix things, and he’s actually attempting to do it, but we think that our administration isn’t good enough right now,” said senior Eleanor Malcom.

“And,” said senior Felix Burtness, “we need to get our voices heard because people aren’t listening without big things like this.”

Other students expressed broader frustrations.

“I’m here to support women’s rights,” said senior Safia Singh. “I’m done with this s*** — men that think they can do whatever f*** they want. I’m tired of it.”

Spilde concluded the walkout with a reading of BVSD Survivors’ list of demands, updated since the walkout last April.

“We demand that Fairview Administration provide a public, formal apology taking responsibility for the harm they have caused survivors in the student body, by their actions and lack of action. We demand that Fairview provide resources for sexual violence, including continued education and services to reach out to,” said Spilde. “We demand that Fairview continue the effort to provide long-lasting sexual violence prevention services district-wide. We demand that Fairview continue facilitating an open conversation and dialogue between the student body and the administration, and that the administration takes student voices seriously. And, we demand that Fairview continues to provide comprehensive, long-term prevention programming for students and staff.”

 

A full transcript of the 9/10 speeches is available here. MESA’s resources for survivors are available here. The website of BVSD Survivors, which contains resources, information, surveys, and shared stories, is here.