A survey conducted by the student-founded ConVal-area End Sexual Violence On Campus group found the high school’s sexual violence curriculum is lacking.
Of the 100 respondents, made up of students and former students of ConVal High School and surrounding districts, 90 percent said that consent is not taught well at their school.
Reagan Riffle, one of the student organizers for ESVOC, said that the survey was the group’s way of making the issue of sexual violence more local and more personal.
“Sometimes it’s hard to take a state statistic and apply it to a district,” Riffle said. “It’s a way for us to say, ‘Hear from 100 of your students, of people from this direct region.’”
The most striking element of the survey data for Riffle was the similarity between the percentage of respondents who reported experiencing sexual assault and the average statewide, she said — that number is one in four. Of ConVal-attending respondents, 23.21 percent reported experiencing sexual assault, and 50 percent reported either being sexually assaulted or questioning whether they had been.
“This data exists, and it has existed, and it’s actually pretty consistent with larger pools of data from the region,” Riffle said. “So it’s something that really shouldn’t be ignored.”
Other standouts for Riffle included the numbers on the reporting process, as that angle of ESVOC’s work is vital, she said, in terms of “seeking a safer environment for reporting and just further resources for young people.” Only 4 percent of respondents who attend ConVal said they would feel comfortable speaking to a counselor about sexual harassment or assault. All respondents who reported experiencing sexual assault also reported either not having a successful reporting experience, or having not reported at all. Forty-two percent of respondents who experienced or were questioning an assault said they were unaware of any resources available to assault survivors.
That so few respondents know about Title IX is also concerning to Riffle, when schools’ Title IX coordinators are often important resources around this issue. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they had no or little knowledge of what Title IX is.
It’s even more concerning, Riffle said, because the majority of those with access to the survey should arguably have more knowledge on the topics of reporting resources and Title IX.
The survey was advertised on ESVOC’s social media and sent out to its email chain, meaning that most of those who responded were already involved with or interested in ESVOC in some way. Thus, Riffle said, this group should have more knowledge than a more general population that is not exposed to ESVOC’s work on a regular basis.
“It does kind of help us in saying these are the numbers of those people who are advocates for the issue. It makes you curious about the general population,” Riffle said.
This lack of knowledge points to what Riffle said she believes is one of the most important underlying issues driving this: education, or rather, a lack thereof. As a ConVal graduate herself, Riffle said that both her personal experience at the school and the research she and her ESVOC peers have done has pointed to “continuous inaction” by the ConVal administration.
“Both our anecdotal/interview-based data and our survey data reflect a lack of mobility in the curriculum and a widely varied effect on the student body,” Riffle said. “In our experience, two students at ConVal will have most likely received a completely different understanding of the concepts because of the instability of the curriculum.”
ConVal Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders defended the current sexual violence education curriculum, which she described as being “consent based.” This curriculum was instituted after the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey — a survey conducted nationwide by the Centers for Disease Control every two years — pointed to an uptick in sexual and dating violence at ConVal in 2015.
Since then, Rizzo Saunders said, the district’s numbers from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey have followed national trends.
There are three questions, out of almost 90, on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey that directly relate to sexual violence, and all ask variations on the same question: if the responding student has experienced sexual violence in some way.
Of ESVOC’s numbers, Rizzo Saunders said that they were the kinds of numbers that the district regularly takes into account. “Anytime we’re given data, no matter what type of data it is, it’s important for us to dig in and compare it to the data on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey,” she said.
“I think they’re calling out an issue that is increasing,” Rizzo Saunders said, “and that people should be paying attention to what these young people are bringing to light and giving them the space to speak and listening to the narrative that they’re sharing.”
As to one of Riffle’s chief concerns, Rizzo Saunders said that the curriculum gets updated in a regular cycle, a process that the high school does to keep all of its educational material up to date.
Riffle said that this cycle is not enough for this curriculum, calling it a “facade.”
“In our efforts to review the curriculum, we were initially met with a major pushback from administrators who stressed that all proposed curriculum changes must face a multitude of checks and balances before reaching the classroom,” Riffle said.
Despite this, Riffle and ESVOC researched and wrote a three-unit comprehensive consent curriculum, focusing on consent, identity and sexual violence. It includes a teacher’s guide, a resource packet, guided listening worksheets, and other resources. “It kind of talks about everything that we wish was included in the consent conversation,” she said.
Riffle said that she understands the administration’s hesitance to change and implement a curriculum like the one ESVOC put together, as public and parent backlash on this topic can be strong.
“But it has been years of intransparency and silence that has allowed sexual violence to persist at ConVal,” Riffle said. “I think it is beyond time that these numbers reach public discourse and beyond time that ConVal abandons neutrality, for the safety of its students.”
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