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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Mayo High School students form coalition to prevent sexual harassment

Mayo High School students form coalition to prevent sexual harassment

Sexual harassment in U.S. high schools is pervasive. A few years back, the American Association of University Women, a group that advocates for gender equality in schools, conducted a survey about sexual harassment among teens. Almost half (48 percent) of students in grades 7-12 said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in one school year; nearly 9 in 10 said it had a negative effect on them. 

Recently, the #MeToo campaign has shed light on the topic of sexual harassment in business, politics and entertainment.

In Hollywood, for instance, prominent female actors and directors are speaking out about the systematic injustice in their industry, creating a legal defense fund called Time’s Up. Their mission: "No more silence. No more waiting. No more tolerance for discrimination, harassment or abuse."

The movement has launched a louder national discussion on sexual harassment across American society — including here in Rochester.

Mayo High School seniors Leah Folpe and Caroline Utz were alarmed by the culture and prevalence of sexual harassment in schools and decided to do something about it. They founded a student coalition called, Students Against Sexual Assault.

The club meets bright and early on Monday mornings before school and provides a safe place for students to discuss issues related to sexual harassment. The club is focusing on reforming the health education at Mayo and in the middle schools, putting an emphasis on safe sex and consent. Posters defining consent and displaying victim’s services phone number line the walls of the high school.

Folpe, who has been a strong youth advocate in Rochester politics, encourages her fellow peers to not be a bystander when they see sexual harassment happening at school. “Don’t allow behaviors just because it’s a part of our culture," she said in a recent interview.

Mayo High School Principal Tom Olson has been involved in the process of integrating SASA into the school's health curriculum.

“What the SASA group is doing is a very positive step," said Olson. "This group of students is ahead of the curve on being proactive. It has also opened up better communication between myself and the students of the group.”

He added, “I don’t get to see what you guys see in the hallways, social media, or outside of school. That’s why it’s important to have a student voice.”

It’s hard to start a dialogue about such a sensitive issue, and there are many people who might prefer to ignore the topic altogether. However, research shows that the need for dialogue on sexual harassment could not be greater. A recent survey from Harvard found that roughly 3 in 4 young adults had not had a conversation with their parents about sexual harassment.

The report, published in 2017, does offer a silver lining: "The good news is that, because most parents and educators don’t seem to be engaging young people in meaningful conversations about mature relationships or misogyny and harassment, there is substantial room for improvement. "

SASA is working to make sexual harassment something that students are educated about and properly equipped to handle. The hope is that, through education and advocacy, this issue becomes less of a problem within the walls of Mayo High School.

Related: How Adults Can Promote Young People’s Healthy Relationships and Prevent Misogyny and Sexual Harassment

One resource available at all Rochester Public schools is the police liaison. The role of the police liaison is to deter and address criminal activity on school property or at school sponsored events. They are employed by the Rochester Police Department, not the school district.

Victim’s services is always available at (507) 328-7270.

Written by contributor Micalyn Maier. A senior at Mayo High School, Micalyn enjoys reading, writing and traveling. She wants to pursue a career in journalism covering social justice issues.

Cover graphic: Pixabay

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