In her 10 years at Lawrence High School, Shannon Carriger has witnessed the weighty impact of sexual assault on her students.
Some kids have been victims of violent crimes. Others have been perpetrators. But all too often, Carriger says, those who have been assaulted feel silenced by the experience. And those around them, she says, don’t always have the tools to speak up when confronted by sexual assault.
“It’s heartbreaking to see students say, ‘This happened to me, and somebody said this about it,’ or, ‘Nobody said this about it,’” says Carriger, who teaches English and also co-sponsors the school’s Young Feminists Club.
This month at Lawrence High School, club members are encouraging students and staff to say something — more specifically, to say “No More” to sexual assault and domestic violence — no more victim-blaming, and no more excuses for inappropriate and harmful behavior.
Following the lead of the national No More campaign, club members will soon launch a two-week, schoolwide initiative asking the LHS community, parents and school partners included, to pledge “no more.” The campaign, which kicks off Monday, will involve guest speakers, a panel presentation from local advocacy groups, an art show and poetry reading based around themes of sexual assault and domestic violence, and fundraisers for Lawrence’s Willow Domestic Violence Center and The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center.
It’s an issue, Carriger says, that shouldn’t be “swept under the rug,” especially when it comes to broaching the subject with teens. “They’re dealing with it (and) encountering it” early and often, Carriger says of her experience with young people. National figures back her up, too — approximately 1.8 million adolescents in the United States have been victims of sexual assault, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Lourdes Kalusha-Aguirre, president of the Young Feminists Club, agrees.
“I think part of giving people credit is saying, 'You’re mature enough to talk about this.' I mean, I’ve been talking about consent for a long time, and I’ve known what it is, but I’m still learning so much about different questions people have,” says Kalusha-Aguirre, a senior at the school. “I think the more people know about something, the more comfortable they are to go and talk to other people about it.”
And it’s not just Young Feminists getting involved with this month’s campaign, she says. Last week, the club debuted a PSA featuring LHS baseball coach Brad Stoll and his players, each pledging “no more” excuses for sexual assault.
“No more, ‘Boys will be boys,” they say. “No more, ‘Well, what was she wearing?' and “No more, ‘I’ll say something next time.’”
The PSA, Carriger says, is an extension of last year’s partnering between the Young Feminists Club and the baseball team on an anti-catcalling campaign at the school. The club’s newest campaign also counts education as an important component, she says.
“We’re educating people in how to say — and giving them the tools to say — ‘that’s not OK,’ or, ‘I think you’re about to cross a line. Maybe don’t,’” Carriger says of the campaign. “Giving people those tools is just so important. And if we’re holistic, ethical educators, I think we have to be doing that.”
And the response has been positive so far, says Kalusha-Aguirre. The longtime Young Feminists Club member shot and edited the baseball team’s PSA herself, and plans to bring aboard other groups from around the school for future “No More” projects. Talks with the LHS track and boys’ golf teams to appear in PSAs, Carriger says, are already underway.
The school’s FYI Club and Total Equality Alliance have also signed on to staff informational tables during lunch throughout the campaign, and young student artists are lending artwork to be displayed during an open-mic poetry event later this month.
It’s been heartening, Kalusha-Aguirre says, to see so many in the LHS community speak up against an issue that has long been stigmatized. Lots of teachers have voiced their support, and plenty of students who were strangers to her before have stepped in to join the pledge, she says.
“People don’t have to be alone so much,” she says. “They know that they have support.”
Those interested in joining the campaign are encouraged to contact Shannon Carriger at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the Young Feminists Club's efforts on Twitter with the hashtag #LHSSaysNoMore.