Schools Respond to Issue of Consent

by Colleen Yates ‘18

Recently, a number of sexual misconduct scandals have come to light, beginning with Hollywood stars and spanning all the way to a candidate as well as a sitting member of the U.S. Senate.

On October 5, the New York Times published an explosive article that Harvey Weinstein, a prominent Hollywood producer, for years sexually harassed and assaulted women. In the weeks that followed, more than 50 women accused him of sexual misconduct. The scandal soon was followed by allegations against actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., and others. Both celebrities and everyday people have come forward and spoken out after years of being silenced. The hashtag “#metoo” began trending on Twitter, encouraging victims of harassment and assault to speak out.

In the midst of these highly publicized cases of sexual misconduct, consent signs appeared in every bathroom stall at Sherwood, encouraging students to read about consent and how it is expressed. “The most important concept for teenagers to understand is consent.” said the person who led the campaign to put up the signs and asked to remain anonymous. “It is a vital part of communication in relationships. A definition of the term combined with examples and nonexamples is the best way to teach a concept. Combine this with repetition and you have learning,”

Suddenly, pressure is intensifying in workplaces and institutions to address the issue of sexual harassment and assault. Even local school districts are under scrutiny to show how they will be part of the solution, rather than the sources of the problem of sexual misconduct.

Last year two Maryland democratic delegates, Ariana Kelly and Marice Morales, attempted to add to the topic of consent into the school curriculums in Maryland. Under the proposal, the topic of consent is to be added to the family life and sex education unit in health classes. The legislature would require public schools to teach a “yes means yes” standard for sexual consent.

The bill failed to pass, but MCPS Legislative Aide Patricia Swanson has hopes that it will be reintroduced this upcoming January. “Often, when a bill is introduced for the first time in the General Assembly, it will take more than one session to pass. This bill was also not brought up for debate on the Senate floor until very late on the last day of Session so it did not have time to make it to the final stage of passage before the General Assembly adjourned at midnight.”

While the bill stalls in debate, MCPS has moved forward to address the topic of consent in its Health classes. “During the legislative session last year, MCPS staff met with the non-profit Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA), to analyze our curriculum and see where MCPS could improve or expand. While MCASA did say MCPS was ahead in its teachings concerning communication skills paired with healthy relationships and consent topics, MCPS wanted to do more. As such, MCPS applied and was approved for grant writing money to enhance our current lessons,” said Swanson.

Cara Grant, the Supervisor for health education in MCPS, explained that the framework in the curriculum has added information on effective ways to prevent sexual aggression as well as provide resources for victims of sexual aggression. The standards for health education now include demonstrations of how to effectively ask for assistance along with ways to prevent sexual aggression and find warning signs of abusive relationships.

While both staff and students may not want to admit it, incidents of sexual assault and misconduct happen at a high school level. Students at every grade level talk about different stories they have heard or experienced over the years regarding cases of assault or often sexual misbehavior. These incidences have included students sexually assaulting other students who are drunk and incapacitated, groping without consent, and possessing explicit pictures without permission. Catcalling and other harassing behavior frequently occur in the school hallways.

The school’s counselors encourage victims of sexual harassment or assault to come forward. Resource counselor Elizabeth Giffen emphasizes that any information that a student tells a counselor is treated as confidential. Counselors are able to provide emotional support to the student, as well as suggestions for how to get additional help or therapy.