BBCHS student protesters seek to form advocacy group and change school culture | News

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the name of the student who started the advocacy organization in BBCHS Works.

BRADLEY — It’s been more than a month since students stood outside Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School on the morning of Sept. 17 to protest their school’s handling of reports of alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault.

This week, the Daily Journal spoke to a student organizer of the protests who said the activism and work of students to change their school was not over.

Lynnia Smith, a freshman who posted her friend’s petition online that sparked the September 17 protest, said she and her peers worked to create a student organization called SCREAM.

She said the organization, which stands for “Stand up, Cry out, Reach out, Eliminate abuse, Allow justice, Make a difference,” will be a student advocacy organization where survivors of sexual assault can talk about their experiences and be guided to report this happened.

BBCHS freshman Madi Winters came up with the concept and aims of SCREAM, which a group of students strive to create a formal organization at school.

“A lot of people have said they’d like to join us,” Smith said.

While school officials said the two specific petition reports were investigated and found to be unsubstantiated, Smith said there were other cases and concerns that had also fueled the protest.

Smith said their main concern was that when reporting these situations [such as a male student groping female students]the teachers don’t always know how to react and there doesn’t seem to be consistency with the punishment.

“Usually students don’t know where to go when they report something like this,” Smith said. “So they’ll just go to a teacher in maybe the class where it happened or a teacher they trust, and the teacher either says, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about it,’ or they’ll say, “Just ignore them; don’t pay attention to them,” because they don’t know where to send the students.

Pupils were also concerned about “the little things that make a big difference”, such as double standards for girls and boys in the school dress code, she said.

“In our swim unit the boys can wear speedos or shorts without a shirt and that’s perfectly fine, but when the girls wear two pieces they’re told they have to put on a shirt or they can’t. swim that day,” she said.

Smith said she was shocked to see so many students joining the protest that morning and supporting their cause. At least 100 stood outside before classes started and different students joined in throughout the day.

“It was just this anger that built up over the years without being heard, and this was an opportunity to stand up to it and bring attention to it,” she said.

Evan Tingley, director of student support services, said while September 17 was a tough day in terms of education, he appreciated the protesters’ efforts as it created a sense of urgency around their concerns and safety. of the building.

“As the Director of Student Support, someone whose sole purpose is to support the students here, it was really important to me to see how passionate they were about their concerns,” he said. “It really pointed me in the direction of, I need to hear their voices, I need to be more specific about their concerns so that I can be nudged into action here a bit.”

Tingley said he spent more than an hour standing outside during the protest asking students questions, making sure everyone was safe and letting them know he was there to speak.

From there, groups of protesters were brought in to meet with administrators and discuss their concerns as early as this afternoon. A group of students continued to meet weekly to discuss specific long-term goals.

Tingley said he’s connected students with adults in the building who can help them get their advocacy organization off the ground, like the board director and activities director, and he plans to form a committee. student who will provide feedback when it is time to revise the student manual each year.

“It’s hard to look through their lens, so if you can get their lens straight into the room, I think that’s always a healthy thing to do,” he said.

Additionally, the school is working to release educational materials on definitions of sexual harassment and sexual assault, school policy, and the reporting process during Boiler Block, a daily 35-minute intervention period for students.

Just this week, Clove Alliance and Hope for Healing presented about 100 students with health and Boiler Block classes, with plans for a follow-up presentation in the second semester, Tingley said.

Groups presented definitions of sexual harassment and sexual assault as well as healthy and unhealthy relationships and ways to say no. They also shared a list of local resources and said they wanted to work with a BBCHS student advisory group, he said.

Tingley added that although the protest was difficult for pupils and school leaders to deal with, he believes the impact of the pupils’ message will end up being a positive thing for BBCHS.

“Ultimately, as an organization, student safety is our top priority. If students don’t feel safe here, they can’t learn. It’s both physical safety and emotional safety,” he said. “So it’s really our mission to hear from our students, to make them feel safe, to take action when they don’t feel safe.”

Carol C. Reed