The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

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The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

GDS summit attendees learn how to encourage consent and reduce assault

Submitted Photo: Serene Kalugdan
SIGN OF THE TIMES. GDS attendees hold up pro-consent signs they made at the summit.

(Aarushi Bahadur)[/caption]

FACE THE FACTS. Sexual assault is unfortunately extremely prevalent. (Aarushi Bahadur)

For the first time ever, SPA sent representatives to the Georgetown Day School (GDS) Summit on Sexual Assault and Consent. The three attendees — senior Naomi Kempcke and juniors Cerena Karmaliani and Serene Kalugdan — came away with plenty they want to share about their experience.

The GDS Summit is an annual event that occurs in Washington, D.C. Participants discuss sexual assault, harassment, and the necessity of consent with other students passionate about these issues. Students from independent high schools attend from all over the country for the two-day-long summit and have the opportunity to listen to a variety of speakers and panelists.

Something that immediately struck Kalugdan was the attendance of many male students. “You would think that the majority of the people would be girls wanting to learn about this, but a lot of guys came to learn about sexual assault and awareness. It was a little surprising because usually we don’t get that at school,” she said.

All three attendees found this to be a pleasant surprise — especially since sexual harassment is not limited to women — and expressed hope to see male students at SPA become more engaged in discussion and prevention of harassment at school and to make students more comfortable with the discussion overall.
Karmaliani felt that being in an environment with open-minded individuals was incredibly important to learning. “I was surprised by how safe the environment felt to talk about these topics. Sometimes, you get a lot of resistance, or you think that there’s only certain types of people willing to have this conversation. And the summit, I felt it was really, really helpful to create that safe environment, to make it comfortable to talk about these things so we can bring that back to this school as well,” she said.

If people feel safe and comfortable enough with students to make it a conversation, it creates awareness. It creates comfortability with the topic, which means that it’s more likely for policy and actual change to happen.

— Cerena Karmaliani

To make steps towards positive change, Karmaliani wants students first to recognize a significant issue with school culture: students’ tendencies to downplay harassment or not speak up about something they experience or witness. “I think [these instances] are indications of something greater happening. And so, as an SPA community, [just like] racism or sexism, this is another topic that [students] should be used to discussing.”

At the summit, Karmaliani learned that if the reaction from the first person an assault survivor tells their experience to is positive, they’re more likely to recover from the experience in the long term.
Vital to solving this issue, according to Karmaliani, is creating a safer, more open environment for students. “Doing your own reading and having conversations with friends was also something we brought up in the summit. [If there was a guy] with my friends, we’d never talk about serious issues. And I bring [difficult topics] up in my friend group but only with people I’m comfortable with,” Karmaliani said. “If people feel safe and comfortable enough with students to make it a conversation, it creates awareness. It creates comfortability with the topic, which means that it’s more likely for policy and actual change to happen.”

To Kempcke, building consent is crucial to creating safe spaces, and it’s necessary to make sure acts, even as small as a hug, are wanted and consented to in order to build a community where people feel safe and welcome. “Consent is the small things, too. Consent, in general, is little things. We give consent every single day,” she said.

However, consent is often taken for granted. At many high schools, harassment, assault and even instances of assumed consent are not taken seriously. A speaker at the summit shared a few sentences that Kalugdan felt described this reality. Kalugdan reiterated the fact: “1% of people have peanut allergies. And yet the whole school banned nuts, right? One in four or five women are sexually assaulted or have experienced sexual harassment. That percentage is way higher than the 1% of people who have peanut allergies. Yet more things are being done for the people who have allergies than people who have experienced sexual assault or harassment.”

All three representatives agreed that SPA should continue to send students to the summit in the future — and that it is an important experience to have. In fact, another school from Minnesota has been attending for a while: Breck.

“What Breck does and what other schools do is they have clubs that work on [assault] prevention. There’s a Boys Leading Boys group at Breck, which is just male-identifying students working on prevention and making a safe space for men to share their experiences and to create a safe space for female-identifying people in their lives. There’s a group that’s called Beyond Breck, which works on sexual assault prevention, not only within their school but outside of their community. They donate to shelters, they work on education in their schools, they make assemblies,” Karmaliani said. She hopes to see similar clubs take shape at SPA.

The three attendees will present their findings to the school at an assembly, and Karmaliani, a member of the Upper School Council, plans to draft policies that will amend the handbook’s current regulations on assault. They also hope to bring the conversation to the middle and lower schools. To make their efforts as successful as possible, Kempcke urges students to be attentive and stay engaged when discussing difficult topics such as consent. “I think people tend to get bored and not pay attention and…they might just be like, Oh, well, that was a waste of my time. We want to engage the students by asking them questions or getting their input on how they want to see SPA change.”

Part of the reason why Kempcke believes there is room for SPA to make positive change is her observation that SPA has a culture where it’s still acceptable to say rude, insensitive, or sexist jokes, which often come from male students.

So, what steps should students at SPA take to prevent harassment and assault from happening in school? “Speak out. If something’s not right, speak up. Don’t try to downplay [harassment], because by downplaying other people’s situations, [you]…minimize it. And be that person, too, that others can rely on [to be] educated…and supportive,” Kalugdan said.

Kempcke, Kalugdan, and Karmaliani hope students learn from their findings and can work together to make SPA a safer space.

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About the Contributor
Aarushi Bahadur, Copy Editor/Promotions
My name is Aarushi Bahadur (she/her). I work as a Copy Editor/Promotions for The Rubicon Online. At school, I’m president of A Capella Club and am involved in debate, orchestra, theater, and tennis. I love to talk about classic literature, '80s new wave, and Twin Peaks. I can be reached at [email protected].

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