Finding Meaning: #YesAllDaughters and the Norman Public Schools Response

There was a silent vigil in front of the Norman Public Schools administrative services center on 131 S. Flood on Monday Dec 1st. Now in the wake of one arrest and while waiting on impending announcement NPS will make about its detailed plan for moving forward, I find myself in a curious situation of examining both public policy and community action. These two things are not necessarily working in harmonious tandem, but together they are driving change.

After doing some research into Oklahoma’s overall strategy to cut down on sexual assault, I can tell this is going to be a long process. It doesn’t have to be hard one, honestly, but it will take time to have open dialog that addresses systemic issues. It starts with the basics, like education to make sure we all understand the same terms and consequences, and ends with identifying sexual predators early and then doing something about it as quickly as possible.

But we’re also talking about the overhaul of sex education programs in a state that doesn’t even monitor a) sex education in all of its schools, b) doesn’t have an official representative on a state sexual assault prevention committee, and c) has yet to have the State Superintendent make an official comment about what is happening over at NPS and to clarify how Oklahoma education officials view the issue of sexual assault prevention specifically in pubic schools.

Once you start looking at policies and what the response has been, you also have to consider the inevitable too: large groups of parents will need to care about this issue like it matters so they don’t let their kids opt out of learning basic information that could dramatically change the way both parents and their children currently understand terms like: consent, voyeurism, etc., what kinds of actions are considered rape, and then the legal ramifications those crimes carry.

And of course there is still information to be shared that would probably stop children from perpetuating rape culture and re-victimization through bullying. Maybe.

If children are a reflection of their parents, than I assure you as a parent and citizen, I am teaching my daughters a lot more than the education afforded to them by Moore Public Schools, which only teaches students how about HIV/AIDS apparently. I guess the rest is up to parents and whatever methods and sources they use to teach about the rest of it.

 

Source: http://oklahomawatch.org/2014/01/21/sex-ed-and-public-schools/

Source: http://oklahomawatch.org/2014/01/21/sex-ed-and-public-schools/

 

 

Anyway, my comprehensive discussions with my kids range from topics like abortion to masturbation to consent to whatever I have to address. This includes the education of what healthy relationships should look like between partners who respect each other. I know life is not perfect, but knowledge is the key to making fewer mistakes, generally speaking. But my pro-activeness has to do with making sure they understand facts, that from the looks of it, are not readily available elsewhere.

I have to do this because they are my daughters. Their father also has talks with them too, he’s not as comfortable, and I have to nudge him along sometimes, but as the predominate male in their life, his opinion is vitally important. Too important to not make the effort to overcome taboo subjects.

So ignoring the need for these discussions doesn’t make the world any better, rather it keeps people ignorant far longer than necessary.

So what is the demand of #YesAllDaughters?

Make meaningful change.

 

Photo Helen Grant, okc.net

Photo Helen Grant, okc.net

 

However, 10 days before the Nov 24th #YesAllDaughters peaceful protest in front of Norman High School, I contacted Shelly Hickman, spokesperson for NPS, about their response to the growing online movement. My questions were of a preliminary nature, but one burning thing I had to know even at that point in time: had anyone with NPS directly communicated with the organizers of #YesAllDaughters yet?

At the time of my interview with Hickman, the answer was that Norman Public Schools had not tried to contact the group because no one was sure who to contact. When I pointed out that you can e-mail a Facebook page directly, she investigated the option over the phone during our interview and said NPS would likely send the #YesAllDaughters Facebook page an email soon.

Then there was the protest, a long holiday weekend, a silent vigil the following Monday, and an arrest on Tuesday and award announced for #YesAllDaughters on Wednesday.

But when I talked to Hickman Tuesday Dec. 2nd she had not contacted the organization. She also explained that she is the only person in her position, so there is no social media coordinator for her to rely on to use the social media platforms NPS maintains more efficiently and promptly. Maybe this needs to be addressed with whomever makes these staffing decisions, honestly, since other schools recognize that these avenues of communication are important enough to staff the position so the job gets done in a way that contributes to dealing with a crisis or basic everyday stuff. This seems especially apparent given this is the very platform the students and their supporters were using to organize and address the community.

And the irony here is that no one can deny that social media was instrumental in organizing the Nov 24th protest, which galvanized hundreds, brought out local and national news outlets and ultimately contributed to the story going viral online. If NPS had adopted a more proactive stance staffing its social media, who only knows how much further they would be in their efforts to address the community they serve in a way that might seem less adversarial to some.

And in watching all this play out over the course of a couple weeks, I’d say the #YesAllDaughters movement’s main goals (other than the ones they’ve stated) are a) growing their following by spreading the awareness of the girls’ post-rape experiences with Norman High on the issues of bullying and having the evidence of a sexual assault passed around via digital sharing (a topic that hasn’t been fully addressed by the administration as far as what legal ramifications students face for having this evidence – which essentially amounts to child pornography – on their phones, but there is another announcement in the works for this week too),  b) get noticed by media, c) begin initiating change through community actions like protests and vigils, and d) hold an open dialog with world at large via their Facebook platform.

Has it all been perfectly executed on the part of #YesAllDaughters?

No, not always. Their “about” section could probably be updated to list their demands so that anyone giving their Facebook page a cursory glance can see the goals they have set for the future and not have to weed through posts or photos on the page. But these are small details.

I’ve definitely kept in mind that the #YesAllDaughters movement and Facebook page evolved somewhat spontaneously in reaction to a series of events. Just watching the page fill out during those earlier posts was enough of a signal that many initiatives seemed to be coming about organically. Admins added here and there. Conversations evolving on comments and with people posting directly to the page. It was a lot to keep up with, and I’ll be honest. I didn’t read all of it.

During an interview with a #YesAllDaughters organizer Stacey Wright, I was told they were not, and are still not, operating off anyone’s playbook. Essentially they are making it up as they go along. And there’s nothing wrong with that. They’ve accomplished a lot. They even made a list of award winners for their efforts as determined by The Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance.

But Wright said that looking into what has worked and not worked elsewhere has not been something they’ve had time to do. The focus of their movement has been about getting the message out in the community and demanding action and accountability. So for example, she said researched details such as: what day of the week do people read the news?

Still the hard learned lessons other schools and communities have faced elsewhere with zero tolerance policies will have to factor into this discussion about what happens when these situations arise. And on that note, like the Oklahoma State Board of Education, #YesAllDaughters does not have a representative for their organization sitting on the Oklahoma Sexual Violence Prevention Advisory Committee either. Not according to the official list of organizations at the time of this post. This is not a criticism, as much as to say there is still a need for both these groups to have a seat at that table too.

If you have the time and the inclination, you can get the 411 on Oklahoma’s “State Assessment and Comprehensive Plan for Sexual Violence Prevention in Oklahoma for 2010-2015“. The University of Oklahoma has a representative on that committee. So do unnamed universities under a flagship grant project. But for grades K-12, that seems not to be the case.

“Anecdotal evidence and data from the college administrator’s survey suggest that Oklahoma colleges and universities are aware of the problem of sexual violence on campus and are addressing the issue in some way. Efforts on this front have been diverse, ranging from schools that have policies reflecting minimum mandated standards (sexual harassment policies, sexual harassment training for staff and compliance with Clery Act standards) to schools that are working towards implementing broad bystander interventions and peer-education programs. As with K – 12 schools, funding for prevention programming is a concern as is potential resistance from administration.” –  see linked report title above to read the rest.

 

Ryan Collins is a Norman resident and an uncle to 5 nieces. When I asked him why he was out there, he said he was there to be a good uncle. Additionally some of his nieces did participate in the Nov 24th student-led walk out.  Photo: Helen Grant, okc.net

Ryan Collins is a Norman resident with 5 nieces. When I asked him why he was out there Monday night, he said he was there to be a good uncle. Additionally some of his nieces did participate in the Nov 24th student-led walk out.
Photo: Helen Grant, okc.net

 

If you want an idea of how they’ve been organizing, here is a quick example. I asked how they came up with their name. Wright said a brain storming session between adults, some of whom are parents, and students yielded the name because a) it was not taken when they Googled it and b) another online activism effort #YesAllWomen had taken off earlier.

But when I asked if they had plan for 2 years from now the answer was they didn’t have one. It’s still evolving. From watching organizers and others participating during the protest and the vigil, and of course talking with them, it is clear they’re people who have their own busy lives and are trying to eek out time and energy to pursue meaningful change in a way that keeps momentum moving forward.

And a lot of them are still upset with Norman Public Schools’ perceived failures.

If there is one thing I will say about this situation it is this: I ducked into the hall at the administrative services building and eventually slid into the public board meeting on Monday evening as I was covering the vigil. I could see how one might come away with the impression that there is resistance to make change given what I heard between NPS members coming in and out of the public meeting space before business started and talking with the police staffed at the building.

Their not-so-quite whispers voiced concerns about the crowd slowly assembling outside.  Understandable since threats reportedly have been made against some administrators, like Norman High School Principal Beck. Still the nature of their conversations felt very much like an “us against them” kind of mentality. And I found that a shame. Since I believe both groups ultimately want the same things. Perhaps where they diverge is on how best to achieve these goals.

What did #YesAllDaughters want? Let’s recap:

“We respectfully submit the following as our list of demands:

* School must fully accommodate the educational needs of the victims and take all necessary steps to ensure the victims feel welcome and safe at all times on school grounds.

* School administration shall request a full investigation by law enforcement into the child pornography passed around school and into any teacher or administrator who failed to make mandatory reporting of child abuse as required by Oklahoma Statutes, Title 10, section 7103.

* School shall create a new, full time position of Victims Advocate for students who report sexual assault, sexual harassment, or bullying who is responsible for overseeing all such reports and following up with the student, the student’s parents and law enforcement.

* School shall create a notice of victims’ rights to be provided to any student who reports sexual assault, sexual harassment, physical assault, or bullying.

* School shall prioritize the immediate implementation of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and bullying prevention education for students and faculty.

* School shall promptly train all faculty on victim sensitivity and the appropriate response to reports of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and bullying.

* School shall establish a committee comprised of 3 students, 3 parents, and 3 faculty to oversee the implementation of these demands and to review the programs and policies implemented every 90 days.”

What did NPS say?

“Norman leads in academics; we now seek to be

national model in sexual assault curriculum, policies

by Dr. Joe Siano

Superintendent, Norman Public Schools

The demonstration outside Norman High School Monday, November 24, sent a clear message that the school’s student body will not tolerate sexual assault and the re-victimization of any victims. We always have supported this message.

There is not an administrator or teacher at Norman High who does not want our students to feel safe, secure and supported in their school. Norman High, as well as Norman North, rank in the top 1 percent in the nation for academics. We now look to these schools to be the state and national models for the safeguards and additional supports needed to ensure our students feel as safe, secure and supported as possible, especially if they are victims of sexual assault and trauma.

Following the Thanksgiving break, our district will announce details regarding the immediate expansion of an already-existing task force that has been studying the implementation of a comprehensive, research-based sexual assault curriculum with student instruction. This committee is being expanded to include students of Norman High and Norman North and additional community members, including mental health specialists. To chair it, I have asked Kathy Moxley, the director of the University of Oklahoma’s Women’s Outreach Center and its sexual assault response team coordinator.

This committee, in addition to its ongoing work of studying and making recommendations for implementing targeted, systemic student instruction, will be asked to study and make recommendations to the district and Board of Education regarding whether NPS needs to:

– Provide additional training of all staff in the area of sexual assault and bullying

– Modify Board policies and school procedures related to sexual assault and any related bullying

Additionally, we will be asking this committee to help us develop a job description and training requirements for a student support specialist at each high school. The student support specialist would focus solely on providing assistance to victims of sexual assault, trauma and bullying. We are committed to adding this position at our high schools next semester and at our middle schools next school year.

Every high school in our state and country must do everything in their power to address the immense and more complex challenges and dangers unfortunately facing young people today. In Norman, we are committed to providing our dedicated principals and teachers targeted support in light of the ever-increasing social problems impacting students and, as such, their schools.”

NPS has pledged to expand their already existing task force. They’ll likely make an announcement soon once they’ve accounted for everyone one they’ve contacted to get back with them about participating and moving forward.

For example, Kathy Moxley, director of the University of Oklahoma’s Women’s Outreach Center and their sexual assault response team coordinator, has been asked to be the committee chair for this expanded task force – her acceptance of the position signals a move that NPS is serious about addressing these issues quickly. When I called Moxley’s office Tuesday morning, she confirmed she had accepted the position as chair of the committee and was eager to use her experience to help improve NPS’s response on these issues. I asked what the start date might be for the first meeting, and she indicated that their goal was to meet before the December school holiday starts.

 

Hey, y'all heard what happened there right? Because it sounds disturbingly  similar.

Photo Helen Grant, okc.net

 

Even so, as an outsider, it seems one hand you have a movement that is still working out a way to achieve the next benchmark, on the other you have the exact same thing with an established organization, only they’re not inviting the side that has instigated this change to the table.  At least not yet.

If they never reach out, I will find that very short sighted given what this small collective were able to do without the establishment to back them. I would say any group who can successfully spread their message like that is resourceful. And the ability to use a medium like social media, for which NPS is currently not well suited, is not something to snub. It might be rough, and kind of weird, but grassroots movements tend to be. If anyone remembers the Occupy movements, this should not come as a surprise. The beauty I find in this kind of organic reach is that all types are drawn to a specific cause, it might not look the same everywhere, but it doesn’t need to. It’s an organization that exists in the moment and evolves in ways public institutions are not as free to, and that key difference could become a very beneficial partnership in the future.

I asked Wright if #YesAllDaughters would be willing to work with Norman Public Schools, and she said yes.

“We have heard they want to speak with us,” Wright said, “this all just hearsay, and a trickling down of information. We have not had any direct contact with anybody from the school, it’s all just been us replying to something we read in the paper. Some students, before the protest, were called into Mr. Beck’s office quite a lot, but other than that we haven’t had any direct interaction.”

At this point in the interview, a student named Noah interjected, “He would call some of the student organizers into the office and half beg and half plead with them that ‘instead of a walk out, could you all do this…” I didn’t get a chance to ask what “this” was, because other students standing around said that hadn’t been called in after the protest to really talk about the demands outlined by the #YesAllDaughter movement either. I realize this is all occurring after a long  holiday after a break. But I find that curiously bleak.

Perhaps my perspective is jaded. You see while meditating on how I wanted to cover this issue over the holiday weekend, Salon published an article on Steubenville — only two years later. Shockingly nothing has changed. Let that sink in for a minute. After the media circus and all the National and International attention focused on Steubenville, literally nothing about this town’s attitude regarding sexual assault and bullying has changed.

“Goddard, the blogger, says some town residents did try to improve sex education programs in the wake of the incident. But they didn’t make much headway because they couldn’t win the backing of the broader community. In January 2013, five months after the assault, the Ohio Alliance for Prevention of Violence organized a round-table discussion about sexual assault. Five hundred invitations were sent to parents of Steubenville High students. On the day of the round table, only 19 showed up. “That is very telling,” Goddard says. “I just wonder, do they not think they have a problem? Is that why they’re so reluctant to talk?” ‘ – Emma Goldburg, Salon.

Despite the refusal of one city to move forward proactively, all around the country and even globally there seems to be a growing awareness of sexual assault, victim blaming, and bullying. Tragic cases, like that of Rehteah Parsons, a teen girl who hanged herself after she had been cyber bullied about her rape, also recorded and distributed, still show up in news feeds with updates on justice or lack thereof. And earlier this year the White House set up a task force to address sexual assault in higher education and how to better protect students. Even as this task force is well under way, Rolling Stone dropped a bombshell about rape culture in Higher Ed. and how institutions do not do enough to protect students.

If you want to protect students and reform current policy in a truly meaningful way, a good idea might include inviting those students who have actively shown initiative to the table along with the adults who support them. So far I’ve heard this is sort of happening with invitations to the expanded task force being sent out as NPS is currently assembling it; Hickman says some students and parents have been identified as potential facilitators. But in examining this issue, it is clear that broader community support will be vital.

But if there is any bright spot to take away from #YesAllDaughters, no matter how and why it had to come about, is that one can deny they’ve made a measurable difference right off the bat and jump started conversations that have needed to happen for a long time. And no one else has been able to carry on this kind of sustained dialog on the subject. Just think of all the incidents of police and highway patrol sexual assaults in Oklahoma that came to light over the course of the summer. Where are the meaningful conversations coming in the wake of those criminal allegations and charges?

But at least Norman has the kind of community that will take a stand and start a movement. And it has a school district that wants to set a positive example moving forward. And as for people who are doing it right elsewhere – I imagine even they are facing their own sets of challenges as no two places are alike and zero tolerance policies still leave some ambiguity as to how sexual assault and harassment allegations are to be handled.

Do you do it on a case by case basis, is there a sliding scale of consequence here that distinguishes between what happens when people send inappropriate texts vs others who commit outright sexual assault? Should the consequences be the same across the board? I kind of wonder what meaningful change looks like in this context. Could it be as simple as assigning counseling to one, while charging another with a crime and expelling them from an institution. And does that kind of crime bar someone from public education for life? What does zero tolerance mean exactly? I don’t have these answers, but I’ve been reading the news looking for a clear cut examples and may have more to write about in the coming weeks.

Whatever happens next, it’s obvious this is an issue that will not be solved overnight and will take sustained commitment on the part of educators, parents, students, and the community at large. Although, I’ll be honest, seeing more female legislators, or legislators in general, come together to support schools and communities would be nice. As of writing this piece, I’ve yet to see any female legislator or government leader other than Claudia Griffith voice her support of enacting change. But hey, it’s a start.

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