The second portion of this Wednesday’s All-School Meeting (ASM) addressed Andover’s culture of consent and respect. Following remarks by Head of School John Palfrey, Florence Grenon ’19 took the podium to share her story as a survivor of sexual assault.
“Some of you may know me because I’m in one of your classes or you’ve seen me on the path before, but today I’m here to speak about part of my identity that I do not usually share. My Lower year, I was raped by a peer, and I stand here today in front of all of you to tell you that I am stronger now and that what happened to me will no longer take control over my life,” said Grenon at ASM.
In her speech, Grenon emphasized the validity of the voices of sexual assault survivors.
Grenon said, “I know with everything going on in our country and the media, [you may feel] that you won’t be believed, and that recognition of our suffering is far from happening, but I assure you that we have already seen a spark igniting within so many people. Things are changing, and we can finally step forward and tell our stories. I know how hard it can be to trust someone and have them take advantage of you. We finally have a voice, so it’s time to speak up, and speak loud.”
In the 2018 State of the Academy, 14.87 percent of total respondents said that they have been sexually assaulted, with 6.2 percent of respondents saying that they have been sexually assaulted on campus.
In 2015, the Brace Center for Gender Studies hosted a conference at Andover that invited more than 100 educators from New England and surrounding areas to discuss “gender-based harassment and violence in secondary schools.” The conference presented a report with nine recommendations for schools, including developing clear policies and procedures regarding gender-based violence, implementing a comprehensive sexual education program, supporting survivors, and deconstructing rape culture. Although Andover does not officially follow these recommendations, this report has guided much of the school’s work in promoting a culture of consent and respect, according to Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Residential Life.
Elliott wrote in an email to The Phillipian,“In the last four years, we have adopted an affirmative consent policy, introduced a seven-week bystander training program for tenth graders, and introduced three years of an EBI curriculum that addresses healthy relationships/safe choices/affirmative consent/toxic masculinity/sex education.”
The Blue Book has been updated annually over the last few years to further clarify the administration’s expectations, improve disciplinary processes, and convey the seriousness with which the school considers violations of sexual misconduct policies, according to Elliott.
The current edition of the Blue Book states, “To cultivate mutual respect, our affirmative consent policy instructs our students that each person involved must verbally communicate consent clearly, voluntarily, and unambiguously at every stage in a sexual encounter.”
Beginning this year, the school has also implemented an affirmative consent form that all students are required to sign.
“There’s research that schools that employ contracts have lower rates of sexual assault, harassment, and gender based violence, so that was a big step this year,” said Emma Slibeck ’20, a member of the Brace Student Advisory Board.
Two educational and training programs have been implemented in the past few years: Mentors in Violence Prevention (M.V.P.), a program for tenth graders that covers sexual violence, respect and consent, and bystander intervention, according to Rajesh Mundra, Associate Dean of Students and Residential Life; and Youth Educators for Sex Positivity (YES+), a select group of peer educators focused on issues of consent and sex, according to Susan Lee ’19, a member of YES+.
Lee said, “We try to get students to understand that safe and consensual sexual intimacy is something that requires communication and mutual understanding. Through these efforts, I think we make an often understated point that consent and the cultural attributes that come with a ‘yes-means-yes’ culture, whether it be communication or sex positivity, can help us lead safer and more fulfilling sex lives.”
Not all students, however, feel that the sexual education at Andover is adequate.
Ash Cohan ’20 wrote to The Phillipian, “I believe that the sexual education on the Andover campus is lacking in a couple of places. I think that sexual relationships between same-sex youth and the queer community remain undiscussed. I would also add that, perhaps, the sexual education is a little childish. People who are planning on engaging in sexual activities are old enough to hear about it in a more ‘adult’ way, and perhaps communicating while using a different tone might be more effective and/or appropriate.”
According to Elliott, the school has also made efforts to familiarize survivors with on-campus and off-campus resources, including medical care and counseling at the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center; services at YWCA, a nonprofit women’s organization that aims to stand up for social justice, according to YWCA.org; and services by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, registered nurses who have completed specialized education to care for patients who have experienced sexual assault or abuse, according to ForensicNurses.org.
“We work to support survivors academically to offer more flexibility and support. We partner with a student’s families and full team to determine how best to meet the needs of a survivor. This year we created the role of a faculty-trained advocated to help students and families navigate the Community Conduct Council. A large cohort of faculty members received training from Sarah Shanahan of HAVEN, [an organization that focuses on violence prevention and support services, according to HAVENNH.org], and Jamie Forbes of Hadley Rock, [an advising organization that guides the process of responding to sexual assault, according to HadleyRock.com],” wrote Elliott.
In an email to The Phillipian, Flavia Vidal, Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, emphasized the importance of a culture that encourages healthy and safe relationships.
“We hope to help create a school culture that goes beyond simply preventing sexual assault and that focuses instead on promoting sex positivity. Ultimately, our goal is to empower our students to develop healthy sexual identities and to form positive, respectful, and pleasure-oriented relationships with their partners,” wrote Vidal.
According to Palfrey, students play a crucial role in developing this culture of consent and respect on campus.
Palfrey said in an interview with The Phillipian, “[Deconstructing rape culture] is something where I think we can emphasize it as adults, but it can only be done by students. The culture is affected by tone from the top, things that I can say or that the faculty can say or productions we put on, but it’s essential the students, of course, do it. Do it yourselves because you are, in fact, the only ones who can deconstruct any kind of culture or reconstruct any kind of culture.”