Freshman Ava Deschaine plays basketball and runs cross country and track for her high school. So she felt sad for the more than 150 female athletes who recently testified that Dr. Larry Nassar had abused them under the guise of medical treatments.
“Being an athlete myself, I would not know what I would do in that situation,” Ava said. “That could really put me in a position where I wouldn’t even want to be in my sport anymore. For those people to be strong enough to get past what has happened to them, in their misfortune, is a big deal. Those people should be applauded.”
Classmates echoed her determined words about respecting girls’ boundaries, following an assembly for freshmen in which Principal Brett Zuver addressed the #metoo movement standing up to sexual harassment and abuse. He included the sensitive topic in a talk on leadership, as part of weekly assemblies he holds on life skills and “how to be good human beings.”
Zuver framed the issue as part of “making people feel trusted, valued and appreciated.”
“What can we do here at Kenowa Hills to make sure the people are treated correctly, with respect and with dignity, all the time?” Zuver challenged a couple hundred students in the auditorium.
Kenowa High students generally do that well, he said, noting two new students remarked they had not experienced the bullying they’d endured at other districts. Still, he said “a lot” of Kenowa female students have experienced sexual harassment or abuse, including several who have gone to trial. Most incidents involved perpetrators from outside the school, he said.
“You’d probably be surprised at some of the people who have (been abused),” Zuver told the group, noting that includes males.
More Girls Coming Forward
The astonishing barrage of abuse and assault allegations against national figures such as Nassar, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey has inevitably made an impact on students and their schools. A Grandville High School student, Sarah Kutchinksi, eloquently expressed young women’s fears and the resolve of the Time’s Up movement in a video she has submitted to the Girls Impact the World Film Festival (see video clip below).
Zuver said he has seen an increase this year in female students reporting incidents of abuse or harassment. He noted the daughter of a friend of his was among the gymnasts who made victim impact statements against Nassar, the Michigan State University and U.S. Olympic gymnastics team doctor recently convicted of sexual abuse and child pornography.
‘We want to make sure this is a safe place for everybody.’ – Principal Brett Zuver
Allegations of sexual abuse are reported to Child Protective Services, as required by law, he said. Students who report harassment are referred to counseling.
“It’s amazing how many kids come to me and say, ‘Hey, can we talk?’” he said after the assembly. “I’m glad that they have the bravery to step forward, but it’s heartbreaking to know they’ve had to endure that. … It’s been eye-opening and kind of scary for me to realize there’s more than I would have guessed.”
Zuver said it was important to incorporate #metoo into the talks he’s been giving to each grade level since last year, which have also covered topics such as the presidential election and immigration. He defined what constitutes sexual harassment and assault, ranging from poor attempts at humor to inappropriate touching.
“You guys know, deep down, what’s right and what’s wrong,” he told students. “We want to make sure this is a safe place for everybody.”
‘What Would I Do?’
Speaking afterward, Kaylee Webber agreed it’s a problem at school but “no one really talks about it.” She said the outpouring of women saying they’ve been abused, amplified by the internet, has impacted her.
“Seeing this stuff on the news, it definitely puts an image in my mind: If an older guy comes up to me, is he going to do that to me? What do I do?” Kaylee said. “It kind of scares me.
Anna Longcore said by so many celebrities coming forward to call out sexual harassment and abuse, “It could make girls more comfortable to go find help or go talk to someone about it.”
Breyden Link said the #metoo movement also has raised awareness among guys, and rightfully so. Like many problems, this was “a time bomb” that finally exploded, he said: “Now the victims of that, they have a gateway (to say) ‘This happened to me.’”
It’s healthy to address the problem head-on, and the national conversation is good to be part of, Ava Deschaine said.
“It kind of does inspire women empowerment, how we have a voice, too, and how we don’t always use it,” she said.