Some 50 Mission High School students gathered at City Hall this morning, joining hundreds more San Francisco Unified School District high school students to march in solidarity with victims of sexual assault and harassment, and to demand changes in the way the district handles the violations.
The “walkout” came at the end of a months-long advocacy movement to spur the San Francisco Unified School District to action. It was organized by student representatives across the district who collaborated over social media.
On the way to City Hall, Tyler Choi, a sophomore organizer at Mission High School, distributed fliers to his peers with a list of demands agreed upon by 12 other SFUSD high schools.
These included creating a survivor support system, a safer reporting process, clarity and accessibility about students’ rights, disciplinary action for perpetrators, on-site survivor protection, and other provisions related to eliminating victim-blaming and providing safe spaces on school campuses.
“A lot of survivors aren’t being helped at all,” said Choi, who is 15 years old; he noted that a prior Mission High protest in November had mobilized at least 300 people. “Students are supposed to be safe in schools, and they just don’t feel safe,” he added.
Melissa Morales, a 17-year-old senior at Mission High who carried a sign which read “rape is the only crime where the victim becomes the accused,” said she joined the march to “protest for student rights.”
“Our voices are not being heard, and it’s a problem,” she said. “The perpetrators are still being allowed on campus. I’m here to make school a better place.”
Once various school contingents arrived at City Hall, student organizers read the list of demands aloud from the front steps. They were joined by Supervisors Myrna Melgar and Hillary Ronen who applauded the demonstration before the students embarked on their march around the block.
“I’m so proud of your activism, that you’re pushing people to do the right thing,” said Melgar. As a mother of three daughters raised in the city, Melgar expressed solidarity and highlighted sexual assult support and prevention efforts for schools, including the Second Step social-emotional learning program.
Ronen, who sits on the Board of Supervisors’ Youth, Young Adult, and Families Committee, also applauded the students and committed assistance for writing and codifying laws on the issue, as needed. “You are all giving me hope and optimism for the future,” said Ronen, the mother of a 9-year-old girl. She offered thanks to the students for “fighting and demanding justice for women and girls and transgender women.”
A student leader stepped in to clarify that “this is not only a women’s issue.” Throughout the march, other students emphasized with statistics and examples how men as well as women are sexually assaulted, and LGBTQ people are disproportionately affected.
When the march returned to Civic Center Plaza, survivors and allies addressed fellow student marchers, some through tears. Several shared how, as a queer person, a person of color, or members of families and communities who “don’t talk about this type of thing,” they had faced additional vulnerability and barriers to justice before and after their assault.
They decried having to attend class with their abusers, and fallout from peers and administration who didn’t believe them or who resented disciplinary action against perpetrators including, in one instance, the dismissal of a well-liked gym teacher.
One survivor said she was told her abuser would not be disciplined because he needed to continue to play on the school’s basketball team. As a cheerleader, she had to cheer him on after the assault.
Laurel Socolow, who was introduced as an “ally from a private school,” recited a poem they wrote in honor of survivors of sexual assault. Another student shared encouragement from a supportive English teacher who bid the marchers well “in the spirit of the 1960s.”
Many referenced an email acknowledging other recent protests sent on Thursday by the SFUSD superintendent to enrolled students and families. According to the SFUSD High Schools Against Sexual Violence liaison Instragram account, the email addressed how to report sexual assault, how incidents are investigated, and new efforts to address the issue.
According to the post, SFUSD Office of Equity will hire an additional investigator, convene a Sexual Harassment K-12 Student Advisory Group in Spring 2022, and continue ongoing professional education for their staff.
Speakers regarded the email as an example of inaction, another “empty promise.” They called on the “responsible adults” in their schools to protect them.
One such adult, SFUSD assistant superintendent Bill Sanderson, was observing the protests and quietly conversing with students on the side. Mission Local was not able to reach him for comment.
A mother of a middle schooler also observing the demonstration told Mission Local that, while this group of students had been talking about the situation for months, it was an issue decades in the making. She said she hoped SFUSD would address the demands, particularly regarding more on-site resources.
“These demands won’t go away,” she said, a sentiment students were also very clear about.
“We’re hoping San Francisco leaders and SFUSD hear our demands and actually try to do something about them,” said Choi. “If nothing happens, we keep protesting.”
An earlier version of this article noted that Melissa Morales was a sophomore and has been updated to reflect that she is a senior at Mission High.
Text of “SFUSD List of Demands” from flier distributed at Dec. 10 march entitled “SFUSD HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS DEMAND CHANGE”:
SFUSD Students demand [the] administration to take action, make reparations to survivors, and hold abusers accountable regarding SEXUAL ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT REPORTS. Transcribed by Jodi [unintelligible initial] and Kelli W.
These demands were written by representatives from various SFUSD high schools, and have been agreed upon by the following schools: Lincoln, Lowell, Independence, Washington, Burton, Galileo, June Jordan, Balboa, Mission, John O’Connell, SOTA, Wallenberg, and Gateway.
The creation of a support system for survivors of sexual harassment/abuse.
This must be in place to protect, uplift, and respect the experiences voiced by our community. To date, these community spaces have been created by students. External and reliable resources for trauma recovery must be made available. We call for the support of the legal adults that are employed to protect us. Survivors are entitled to a safety plan as well as an SST (student success team).
The safe reporting process of the incident without further traumatizing and triggering the survivor.
This looks like having trusted adults in the conversation, validation without physical evidence of the incident, survivor confidentiality, and a timely follow-up that lists action. We understand that physical evidence is required to convict, however, there are measures that must be taken to protect the survivors regardless.
NO VICTIM BLAMING!
The labor and responsibility to change their schedules and lifestyles should fall on the perpetrators, rather than the survivors.
Clarity and accessibility in terms of information about students’ rights.
Information about the extent of Title IX protections needs to be posted around campus as well as phrased and displayed in a way that is accessible and visible, rather than buried deep within the student handbook. This includes a curriculum around the importance of consent starting in elementary school.
Disciplinary action and survivor protection on-site, even if abuse occurred off-site.
School communities extend beyond the physical campus, this must be reflected in the administration’s response. Survivors should not be subjected to interacting with their abusers, especially in an environment that is supposed to be conducive to learning. Substantial abuse allegations should be noted on the transcripts or permanent files of perpetrators.
That the bathrooms remain unlocked when students are present and learning on campus.
The locking suppresses people’s gender identity and deprives them of a basic human right. Additionally, bathrooms serve as a safe space for survivors who may not feel supported anywhere else on campus.