The Naked Truth/Jamala Rogers
Madison Youth are Fulfilling Their Mission
When I read about students responding to an alleged rape and indifferent school officials in Madison, I thought about Frantz Fanon’s famous quote: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” Fanon, a philosopher and psychiatrist, was one of the greatest thinkers and observers of human behavior of the Twentieth Century.
I have zero tolerance for adults in positions of authority who do not make it their top priority to keep children out of harm’s way — regardless of the source of that harm. Schools were once sacred spaces, but over time we have let society’s toxins invade the classrooms like a nasty virus. Harassment and violence related to racism, misogyny and homophobia are now commonplace in schools. When adults are silent and complicit, they leave students no choice but to take matters in their own hands. That’s exactly what students at East High did.
East High students organized a walk out and rally to show support for a student who was alleged raped at a homecoming after party. The accused has the right to know his accuser and the charges against them. Both accused and accuser are guaranteed equal protection under the law. Like me, those East High students know this is not always true. In this country, race, income and gender impact the color of justice.
Maybe people expected Principal Sean Leavy to come to his new position with sensibilities as a person of color. When young people (or adults!) feel threatened or have been physically or sexually assaulted, they don’t want to hear about what safety precautions are on the books. They want action — or at least some movement in the right direction. Leavy missed an opportunity to show both empathy and leadership on the matter.
Students from the other four high schools joined the protests because the issue and lack of serious response to it resonated with them. Youth and young people have been politicized by the events in their communities and in this country. Many are not just more aware of the injustices and inequities around them, they are also learning how to mobilize and organize to address these issues.
The list of the student demands to school administrators was shared on social media. They were thoughtful and reasonable, ranging from having clear protocols for incidents on school premises to providing resources to support victims of violence.
School officials and teachers must be vigilant on the front end, working with students to create a genuine culture of safety and inclusion. When incidents erupt, there’s an agreed upon plan to address the situation quickly and effectively. Too many times, they hide behind bureaucratic processes and policies hoping that either time runs or that students run out of energy. Avoiding confrontation and accountability are not viable options.
I admire the actions of the Madison students and other students on high school and college campuses who are fighting for transformative change with their peers and adult allies. This can only make them engaging citizens and capable change agents to deal with the larger, dysfunctional world they will inherit.