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Students share sexual harassment concerns

STARS Therapy Services Counselor Julianne Henry does paperwork in the Bear River office. STARS is the school district’s resource that offers therapy services for better relationships and emotional wellness. Photo by Scout Pettitt

From the streets of Grass Valley to the Bear River campus, things can happen without anybody noticing, and one of those things is sexual harassment. Whether it be the words you use, or the way you touch someone, verbal and physical harassment exists. Regardless of people’s perceptions, it is never something to turn a blind eye to.

Walk the school from one end to the other — something might catch your eye. Awareness of sexual harassment has never been posted on school grounds, nor do we have any pamphlets on what we can do if we need help dealing with a problem we may have experienced. Last year, a student attempted to post sexual harassment awareness posters around campus. These posters were up for a day before administration removed them for concerns about the language used. This lack of public conversation about sexual harassment is problematic. Girls and boys everywhere are experiencing some form of sexual harassment, whether it be verbal or physical; it does happen, and we need to do something about it.

Senior Leo Jackson gave her insight on the situation.

“It’s not like it doesn’t happen,” she said. “I’ve had it happen to me. I’ve had it happen to my friends. It’s not a problem we can’t tackle.” 

Senior Mia Webster elaborated, adding her own opinion on the matter.

“I just think for a lot of people it just goes really unnoticed,” she said. “People just don’t really say anything. I think people don’t think it’s a problem because not many people know.”

Senior Bella Thornbury described her views on sexual harassment at Bear River.

“I think that sexual harassment at Bear River is an issue, as it is in most high schools,” Thornbury said. “Girls are always told to prevent sexual harassment on their end, but the staff fails to educate the males on the fact that they need to control their urges and respect women.”

Some of the staff said that the only reason it isn’t dealt with is because they don’t hear enough about it to do anything.

“If we don’t hear about it, we can’t do anything about it,” said Bear River’s Principal Christopher Roberts. “We just need students to be open to us about it and not be afraid to share with us when these things happen.” 

Webster responded to this with her own personal view as to why she couldn’t go to anyone.

“I couldn’t do anything because it was very quick,” she said. “I didn’t know how to react because I hadn’t had that happen before, so I was in shock.”

English Teacher Toby Barmeyer said that she has actually helped a student who experienced sexual harassment and dealt with it in a civil and helpful way.

“I talked to her about standing up for herself and for having a voice,” she said. “I let her know it isn’t okay to be touched without her consent. She did end up going and talking to admin about it and the situation got fixed. So I’m glad I could support a student who was in a tough situation.”

Students mentioned school dances and said that they don’t believe that the way they dress has anything to do with why they are being sexually harassed. 

Thornbury commented on her view on the dances and the way people act surrounding the dress code.

“I don’t think what students wear to the dance makes the experience uncomfortable, I think that the reaction to their outfits is what make things uncomfortable,” Thornbury said. “Students are being sexualized by both peers, and staff members.”

Jackson responded with her opinion on the matter.

“I think it’s the attitude they bring,” she said. “I think that you could be wearing something completely modest and still act a certain way. I’m sure some people may dress more provocatively, just because they already have that mindset to do this specific thing, which I guess falls into that, but I don’t think that is the entire cause of it.”

Thornbury added onto this with some experiences told by her friends.

“I know many girls who have felt harassed at dances by guys giving unwanted advances,” Thornbury said. “For the most part, girls seem to handle themselves well and are able to deter their suitors, but some, however, understandably struggle with it and they must continue feeling that discomfort.”

Vice Principal Cathy Peterson responded to this with a question of her own.

“I want to know what the intent is for the way that they dress,” she said.

Sexual harassment is happening on the Bear River campus. We need to start talking about sexual harassment to students more than we ever have. At dances, in the classroom, and even in the lunch yard, sexual harassment is everywhere. We know, yet we do not acknowledge. Students are scared and, yet, here we are sitting on our hands, acting as if there is nothing we could ever do.

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Students share sexual harassment concerns