Speakers Shed Light on Sexual Assault At School-Wide Conference

Ben Fagell ’20, Patrick Newcombe ’20, Nicholas Spasojevic ’20

Upper School students took part in the Building Healthy Relationships Conference on Sexual Assault Awareness, Consent, and Bystander Training on Oct. 11. 

The event was organized by Upper School Psychologist Dr. Kasaan Holmes and seniors Serena Baldick, Jendaiya Hill and Ana Lyons. A committee of additional student volunteers also assisted throughout the day to make the event possible and assisted in planning the conference. 

Upper School students heard from several survivors of sexual assault at the conference. All three keynote speakers were representatives of the sexual assault relief organization PAVE, Promoting Awareness and Victim Empowerment.  PAVE founder Angela Rose opened the program by discussing the importance of dialogue surrounding sexual assault. Following her was speaker Chessy Prout, who received national attention after identifying herself on national television as the victim in a widely-publicized 2015 sexual assault case at St. Paul’s School, an elite New England boarding school. The incident involved an alleged rape by a senior who was partaking in a school tradition called the “Senior Salute,” in which seniors tried to have sex with underclassmen girls before graduating.

Fellow PAVE representative Delaney Henderson was sexually assaulted by two high school friends at a party when she was 16. Henderson stressed the importance of standing up for oneself.

Both women emphasized the importance of avoiding victim blaming, and instead providing support and trust for victims of sexual assault.

After the presentation, students attended different small-group discussions on issues ranging from sexual assault prevention advocacy to the dangers of sexting. These sessions were taught by speakers from a wide variety of organizations, including Futures without Violence, Break the Silence against Domestic Violence and the Wake Kendall Group PLLC. 

Speakers shared lessons on how to effectively stand up for someone in trouble, the legal implications of electronically sending inappropriate material and how to be confident when self-advocating.

Marta Beresin, the policy and legal director at Break the Cycle, an organization devoted to stopping domestic violence, led a session titled “Healthy Relationships 101.” Beresin illustrated characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships by using clips from popular movies. 

“Because of how common dating abuse is in the lives of young people, we really believe that young people are an essential part in the epicenter of creating a culture without abuse,” Beresin said.

Sunita Duggal and Lenni Snyder of Wake Kendall Group, a psychotherapy and assessment firm, spoke about the concept of interpersonal effectiveness, which emphasizes the use of effective communication to build healthy relationships. 

Due to the sensitive nature of discussions about sexual assault, psychologist Dr. Lisa Carlin was available in a “reset room,” created to help students who experienced emotional distress during the conference. A student who asked not to be quoted by name felt that “the topics discussed were very hard to hear about and troubling.”

Many students, however, said they thought the experience was enriching and educational. “I thought the conference shed light on problems in our community, and I learned a lot about how sexual assault can affect people's’ lives and how to prevent it,” said sophomore Noah Greenspan.

Senior Serena Baldick, the main organizer of the event, said the highlight of the day was “being able to see the panel of survivors in front of the whole school. A lot of people came up to me and said they really enjoyed that section, which was great.” 

Dr. Holmes said she was impressed by the event and students’ reception of the topic. “The conference exceeded expectations…  it just reminded me that I work in a place where people really value not only this topic, which is really important, but a lot of support around health and wellness programming. I really just felt across the board, from faculty, administration, students —that they thought it was important,” she said.

Holmes also said she was “impressed that our students took [the topics]  so seriously and were so engaged. We’re known for being good academic students, but the speakers were impressed our students care about these issues too, and just the level of empathy and seriousness that students responded to the issues with was impressive.”

 

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