Wilson’s culture of disrespecting women must end

Graphic+by+Shirah+Lister

Graphic by Shirah Lister

Virginia Suardi

We all know boys at Wilson that harass girls. It happens in different ways: catcalling, filming, following, touching, and more. Despite the prevalence of the issue, teachers and administrators still do very little to address it. 

When asked where the problem comes from, many credit it to misinformation about what constitutes sexual assault. The problem, though, is that these boys don’t care. They know they won’t get in trouble. They know the Wilson administration has never made any real effort to make a safe environment for female students. And this is precisely because they themselves are among the perpetrators.

There are only too many examples of the ways admin has failed and disrespected the female student body. When we did not adhere to the dress code, we were told to “have some self-respect.” I know many people, myself included, have endured constant and creepy attention from male teachers and substitutes. They make sexually charged comments, call you “babe,” and get way too close for comfort, trying to convince you that their hands on your shoulders, arms, and legs is okay; that their faces, recklessly close to yours when they breathe over your shoulder, is only a way of more “closely connecting” to teach. 

Beyond the classroom, administration also has an extremely poor record of handling cases of sexual misconduct. Wilson girls are routinely blamed for any type of sexual harassment we endure, being told that we “need to be more careful” and should know “who our real friends are.” These situations enforce a stifling culture of forced silence and fear.

At any school, the safety of the students should be the administration’s top priority. In many ways at Wilson, safety protocol is strictly enforced: metal detectors, security cameras in every hallway, etc. In neglecting the issue of sexual harassment and assault, Wilson has neglected the safety of its student body and has failed to create a safe environment for everyone. As a girl who was almost broken by Wilson’s culture of disrespect and lack of safety, I deserve change. 

Wilson administration needs to make very clear to all students what their policies and consequences are in cases of sexual harassment, and they need to enforce them. They need to double preventative efforts, making sexual assault and harassment discussions the focal point of sex-ed curriculum. They need to seriously investigate any reported cases of sexual assault. They must bring an end to the toxic victim-blaming environment that is so prevalent here.

They must also recognize their responsibility in these issues. They must believe students when they say that a teacher or a substitute makes them uncomfortable. They must compel male staff to be more respectful of their female students with their language and their actions.

Within all of my experiences, I have to recognize the privilege I hold. At the end of the day, my race has protected me from more awful cases of ethnic sexualization and race-based sexual harassment. Generally, I live in a place that is more respectful of women than in many others around the world. In many ways, I am appreciative of the situation I have grown up in. And yet, I cannot sit around and allow the same suffocating culture to reign silently at Wilson. The idea of new classes of fourteen and fifteen-year-old girls enduring that kind of humiliation breaks my heart. It cannot go on.

I don’t harbor the fantasy that these actions will fully eliminate the presence of sexual harassment at Wilson. However, they have the potential to significantly reduce it. If they refuse to make this effort, they will prove that they have no desire to ensure the safety of the female student body. •