Ballard High students protest what they call a culture of sexual misconduct and harassment
About 100 students walked out of Ballard High School on Monday afternoon to protest a lack of accountability when it comes to sexual misconduct and harassment at school.
“On Friday, I saw an abuser in the library and he smirked at me,” said Rosa Basiji, a junior at Ballard High. “I went to a bathroom where a bunch of my friends were, and I was really upset and we talked about having a protest. I went back to class and I just started having a panic attack.”
The protest follows a series of incidents dating back to 2018, when a student was charged with sexual assault. Quoting a lawsuit, The Seattle Times wrote that the student coerced a classmate into performing a sex act in a school bathroom.
In October, Principal Kevin Wynkoop wrote parents an email warning them about “spodies” – parties named after a sort of punch mixed in a large bin. Spodies are strong drinks that, Wynkoop warned, are susceptible to being laced with “roofies” – drugs to further lower a person’s inhibition.
“The idea that people may be drugging other students at these events is frightening and makes them even more dangerous,” he wrote. “Please talk to your students about the horrific nature of roofies.”
Attached to that email was an image of a flier in the hallway. The flier read, “There have been many reports of roofies resulting in sexual assault and rape at spodies, please stay safe and aware.”
Basiji, the student, said the school has held forums to discuss these issues.
“Recently we had one, and ASB (Associated Student Body) is saying that there is going to be change coming, but we just wanted to have this protest to show how upset we are. Because we feel we are not actually being heard or seen.”
A change.org petition includes anonymous messages from students complaining about unwanted male attention – instances of teachers not intervening when older male students became “handsy” with younger female students, or cornered them in the halls.
On Monday, following the protest, Principal Wynkoop sent a second email to parents. He started by saying he supports students’ right to protest.
“Responding to sexual assaults is sometimes complicated,” he said. “The large majority take place away from school and are therefore not in our jurisdiction to investigate and discipline.”
He said the school makes a police report, contacts parents, and supports “the victim in a variety of ways,” he said.
“I sympathize with the difficulty of sexual assault survivors having to see their attackers at school and cannot imagine having to face that trauma over and over again.” (Scroll down to read Wynkoop’s email in full.)
At the protest on Monday, Nicolo Potesta, a junior, said that although these issues have gotten attention, it feels like not enough has happened.
“When we heard the school making more of these empty promises, we knew that we had to do something bigger to show that we aren’t going to be placated with promises of action, without actually doing any action,” Potesta said.
“In the school newspaper, the Talisman, we published a newspaper like five years ago that was centered around rape culture, and we were still talking about the exact same things that we’re talking about today.”
The protesters made a list of demands, including:
- The school system to pass the new Title IX regulations.
- Staff training with sexual assault specialists on what they can do better to support victims. (They also asked for training for students.)
- The school to provide a sexual assault specialist therapist at the health center.
November 8 email from Principal Kevin Wynkoop:
Dear Ballard community -
I’m writing today to let you know about a student demonstration that occurred at the school this morning and early afternoon. Students organized the demonstration in support of victims of sexual assault and the school district’s process in handling reports of sexual assault.
First, let me say that as principal I fully support our students’ First Amendment rights and I’m very proud of their initiative and courage to speak up about issues that matter. Issues that matter to them, issues that matter to the Ballard community and the entire school district community. Listening to their stories was crushing, but their mutual support was inspiring.
Responding to sexual assaults is sometimes complicated, since the large majority take place away from school and are therefore not in our jurisdiction to investigate and discipline. In these cases, our focus is on making a police report, contacting parents and supporting the victim in a variety of ways, based on what they report would be helpful. I sympathize with the difficulty of sexual assault survivors having to see their attackers at school and cannot imagine having to face that trauma over and over again.
Our school district also supports our students in exercising their First Amendment rights. The district has been working on modifying the Title IX reporting procedure, as required by federal law, and that work is expected to go to the school board next spring. This seems like a long time, but it is important that this work is thoughtful and accurate. It’s important to note that the task force does have a student voice subcommittee and has been working with students to make sure their voices are part of the conversation as the procedure is modified.
I feel fortunate to be part of the school community that prioritizes student voice and I am proud of our students today. Even when I was the focus of their anger, I was happy to see the way that they came together to support each other. No one should feel they have to take steps like this and we all need to fully honor the rules of consent and respect the people around us.
Our next step is to host a 2nd student forum on Wednesday, November 17 from 2:40-4:00pm in our Performing Arts Center. I will be there and I will be joined by representatives from the SPS Student Civil Rights Office along with other school personnel to listen and to answer questions. They will also be leading a staff training that day to make sure that staff are clear on how to receive complaints from students and get the reports to the administration to follow up.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.