“Image vs. Well-being: Normalization in Private School” – by Tara Boyd

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Ever since freshman year of high school, I remember the head of my school talking about how important our image is. When there was a vaping problem, she simply said it makes our school look bad, and told us how we should cover it up. Instead of talking about how vaping and nicotine is addictive and can ruin someone’s health for life or even cause seizures (which happened a handful of times in just three years from juuling) she lectured us on how as a Sacred Heart School we couldn’t be seen as nicotine-addicted juveniles.

 

During my Sophomore year, there was an instance of sexual assault outside of school. When the school became aware of the situation, they did not make a public statement on the issue and didn’t do much to the perpetrator. This person had to see a counselor for a while, but that was the end of it. Students collaborated with the school counselors to organize an assembly to talk about consent and sexual harassment issues. That was the first and last time they would talk about it. As far as the school was concerned, the situation was dealt with. In another instance, there was a student who said the n-word. He was suspended for a couple of days, then his record was wiped squeaky clean so he could get into a good college and carry on the “Sacred Heart legacy.”

 

Later that year, my friend was expelled because of a video that emerged, which showed her smoking weed, which was anonymously sent to the school. Even though countless other students were vaping at school, she was expelled because of a video that served as concrete evidence of the school’s problem that they were trying so hard to cover up. Even though around the city we are known as “hoes on the hill” or “bitches on Broadway,” this video crossed the line. But sexual assault didn’t?

 

Junior year. It has been a test of the school’s values and what they are able to control. There have been a couple of videos surfacing online by high schoolers in the Bay Area perpetuating racism. When a song called “I’m a Racist” came out from a Sacred Heart Cathedral student, it spread through the city like wildfire. It was on the news and parents and students took charge and created a successful campaign that urged the school to expel the student. Three weeks later, a Snapchat video surfaced featuring three senior boys, who were not black, saying the n-word multiple times. One of them even spoke as a white ally at our People of Color Student Union assembly the year before. The school finally took action. They met with the people in the video and suspended one of them. They were all all-star players on the basketball team, a representation of the school. We made it to NCS finals and they could not risk losing starters because of a racial slur. The rest of the students in that grade have been normalizing this racism. They want things to stay the same for the sake of maintaining their social status and popularity. It’s not “cool” to stand up for what’s right. 

 

This year there was yet another case of sexual assault within my grade. People took sides. The boys evoked the ‘boy code’ which seemed to overrule morals and witness testimonies. Divide was created. The school found out but didn’t know what had happened. They filed a police report, which was an improvement from the last case. But the perpetrators still went to school every day, even though our handbook states that if any accusation or information came to the school concerning sexual assault, they would be suspended until the school figured out what to do. They were there the day after it happened. Normal. There have still been no conversations about consent or sexual harassment at our school. I met with the one counselor we have for 400 students about ways we can continue the conversation and bring awareness to things like that happening. I am not aware of any institutions that the school has put in place to deal with these kinds of issues. We’re left to fend for ourselves. The school claimed that the boys who uttered racial slurs and who groped girls were under the influence of alcohol and this somehow protects them. I can assure you, alcohol is not the problem.

 

Though the school has been taking more steps, the only time they truly act is when there is a video that can be sent around, damaging our “spotless” image. They crack down more on dress code so girls don’t look like sluts or dirty rather than those who say racist slurs when they’re (supposedly) drunk. In a way to take a stand, on a Monday, many girls will be breaking the dress code to show the school that we will not stand for this sort of behavior. They need to educate the students on racism today and how it affects the community. Some students think that it’s not racist to sing the n-word in a rap song, or that it’s okay to say it if you’re anything other than white. Whether or not people agree or disagree with that, the school cannot keep facilitating an environment and creating citizens who continue to do it. When you sign the contract to go to private school, there are rules that differ than those of a public school. The bottom line is, my school is not doing enough.  They only care about how the school is perceived to 8th graders wanting to apply, which has been proven to me again and again throughout my 3 years here. With only one counselor for hundreds of students, we are left to support each other while also navigating High School and other social issues. It is up to the students to create a wave of change that is much needed.

 

 We have the power.