At the request of several students and in response to recent sexual misconduct allegations in the news, Hebrew Academy School Psychologist Dr. Susan London educated students about sexual harassment this past week with her series “Speak Like A Mensch.”
The idea for the series initially came from two students, who wish to remain unnamed. They approached Dr. London requesting that she administer sexual harassment education, and after a few months in the making, she administered the presentation to every class in hopes of providing education and creating empathy.
The presentation was given to individual classes sorted by grade and gender to create an environment more conducive to making students feel like they could comfortably express themselves.
“I did this with the groups by gender,” said Dr. London. “I thought it was just easier to have those conversations so people would feel more comfortable to speak openly.”
The series was opened with an array of disclaimers and followed by an assertion that the presentation wasn’t meant to serve as a debate.
“I tried very hard in the beginning to make it clear that this is not, you know, shaming, or punishment, finger-wagging,” said Dr. London. “I also said it wasn’t a debate, that this is really about providing education and hopefully developing a sense of empathy amongst our students for what other students experience.”
It was also made very clear that both genders could be on either side of a situation involving sexual harassment, and the issue is not singularly a male harassing a female.
“Men harass men, women harass women, women harass men but a lot of the kind of complaints, quote on quote, shall we say, typically came from female students saying to me you have to talk to our students about this,” said Dr. London. “You have to do some kind of programming about this and I agreed.”
In her presentations, Dr. London defined sexual harassment and explained the range of what is considered sexual harassment. She taught that sexual harassment (typically of a woman) is in a workplace, school, or other professional or social situation involving making unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Two supplemental videos were shown. In the first, a woman was portrayed walking around in New York City and was consistently and continuously cat-called or whistled at over 100 times throughout the course of a few hours. The second was a recount of the renowned case made against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas by Anita Hill for sexual harassment in the workplace.
The presentation was additionally very unique and personal in that it included student opinions. After a debate midrash weeks earlier that raised the same topic, Dr. London reached out to the high school’s English teachers to prompt their students to write about how they felt about sexual harassment. These responses were all anonymously included in the presentation as a means of creating empathy.
“This program is very important.” said Mark Alishayev (12th). “It addresses a topic that students need to be aware of. Sexual harassment is a terrible thing that exists in our society nowadays.”
Many students were gratified that the school was taking steps to shed light on such a relevant and prevalent issue.
“I really enjoyed Dr. London’s presentation today,” said Zeev Rotenstein (11th). “She taught us a lot of things that we didn’t know, that it happens to boys and girls in this school.”
Other students, however, claimed that the series fired frustrations and invoked resentment.
“It just caused some outrage because I felt like we were being attacked for sexual assault even though I don’t do that stuff,” said Moshe Goldring (11th).
Many had mixed reactions.
“I definitely see where some of the girls are coming from,” said Hadassah Bixon (11th). “I see both sides. The boys must feel under attack and it’s very unfortunate that they’re desensitized in a way. Some of the things they think aren’t a big deal to girls, they don’t get it. They feel like, ‘what am I doing that’s so wrong?’”
Some students questioned whether or not sexual harassment exists in our school community.
“I haven’t seen it firsthand,” said Alex Farkas (11th). “I mean it might be, but I would say, I mean, if it were a big problem in our school I feel like I would’ve seen it.”
Others assented to the idea that whether or not people witnessed or experienced it firsthand, sexual harassment is definitively both present and problematic among the student body.
“Sexual harassment is something in our school that has kind of always just been under the radar. It’s usually something like jokes between friends that people just kind of brush off, but sometimes it gets to the point where it happens all the time and it can get annoying,” said Tehila Moore (12th). “I think the problem is in our school that it’s so low key that people just don’t realize, and a lot of people don’t think it is an issue but it is for some people and I think it should be addressed.”
Some had different takeaways from the series, looking to society as a possible outlet for blame because older people, some role models to many, are guilty of sexual harassment and are serving as negative examples.
“I think that it’s beyond a school problem. I think that it’s become kind of like a cultural norm for men, in a sense, to objectify women and, you know, treat us like we’re lower than them and it sucks,” said Avigail Kahn (10th). “I definitely think it’s an issue and obviously it’s annoying and boys are stupid, but at the same time, you can’t blame them, because of the people they have to look up to and people that are older and doing this kind of stuff.”
“You turn on the news, and everyday it seems like someone in politics or in media or you know, hollywood executives being called out for sexual harassment,” said Dr. London. “I think, you know, we just really can’t tolerate it anymore and we really need to do a better job educating our students about what harassment is and the consequences of harassment.”
Overall, the presentation’s goal to educate students was an apparent success and its message was internalized by many students.
“Personally, I think that, she also told me last year when I was in eighth grade,” said Sammy Farkas (9th). “It really taught me to be more careful about how I act around girls and it really had a deep effect on me, in a good way, cause now I’m more careful and I’m more cautious with everything I say and how I act.”
By: Raquel Zohar (11th Grade) and Samantha Ebner (10th Grade)