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if the message fits, wear it…

Last week, just as WCASA was embarking on its annual Training Institute, a story broke regarding students at Mosinee High School. Dennis Kaczor, the school’s acting Associate Principal, confiscated T-shirts worn by five female students.

The T-shirts, homemade, with the words “Stop Abuse” on the front, and various statistics related to sexual assault on the back, had caused some complaints, and Mr. Kaczor asked students to stop wearing them; when they refused, he confiscated them.

What these complaints were, I do not know; such details are not to be found beyond the scant mentioning of them in news reports; I understand there may be confidentiality issues at play – if students felt uncomfortable and presented to the principal’s office to complain anonymously – but I still think this is a significant omission. If students felt uncomfortable because they are survivors and the T-shirts were a trigger, then one wonders if the school is properly equipped to provide counseling and services; if the students felt uncomfortable because the simply don’t want to be confronted with thinking about the issue, well then I say it’s a clear indication of the need for more education on the topic, not less.

According to reports, the instigation for the students’ t-shirt campaign was the reading of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird, which as we all remember from English class (and if haven’t read it yet, for shame – it’s one of my favorite books of all time) contains a plot line involving an African-American male being wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. Except, maybe we don’t remember from English class, because how many of us, at least in my generation or prior, had English teachers who actually called it rape or sexual assault?

You can read the story, as reported by Dan Richter at the Wausau Daily Herald, over on their website; my favorite part is this gem of a quote:

“I’m all for educating students on this topic, but I think it should be done during the month of awareness using pamphlets and fliers from an established organization. That would add some substance to the cause,” Kaczor said.

So, educating and raising awareness is fine, as long as it remains relegated to one specific 30-day period? And that part about “an established organization”? I work for an established organization (est. 1985), and volunteer for another one (est. 1983), yet we exist to support survivors and help increase awareness and point a path toward prevention, not to supersede or supplant the voices of teens. When it comes to the experience of living as an adolescent in the 21st Century, THEY are the expert, and we must learn to listen a bit more to them.

If nothing else, this story, besides adding to my Wisconsin pride and faith in students in general, highlights the need for increased training in our schools – for staff, administrators, and teachers.

I commend these students (and their supportive parents) for taking time to raise awareness in their school.

– stephen
Violence Prevention Communications Coordinator

UPDATE: Today’s Wausau Daily Herald includes a piece citing an apology to the students from a school official. Good, but a bit conspicuous coming a the close of the school year; I hope we can work together – the coalition, students, and Mosinee school officials – to keep exploring the issues at play here through the summer and into the start of a fresh, new school year; this simply can’t wait until next April.

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