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Hundreds of SF High School Students Walk Out of Class, Demanding More Support for Sexual Assault Survivors

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A photo showing the backs of students at a protest, with some holding protest signs. From left to right, a student in a white tshit with red palm prints, a student in a black shirt, and a student in a red shirt. The Golden Gate Bridge is visible in the distance in the right hand side of the frame.
A student holds a sign that says "My Clothes are Not Consent" during a walkout and rally against sexual assault at George Washington High School in San Francisco's Richmond District on Nov. 10, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Hundreds of students from at least three San Francisco high schools walked out of class on Wednesday to show solidarity with sexual assault survivors, and to call for administrators to hold perpetrators accountable.

The actions at George Washington High School, Lowell High School and Abraham Lincoln High School follow similar recent protests at other Bay Area high schools.

At George Washington High School, hundreds of students gathered at the football field wearing red and black to show support for survivors.  They held signs that read "Boys Will be Boys Who Respect Girls" and "If You're Not Angry, You're Not Paying Attention."

"We wanted to show the district and show the administration that there are people who really care,” said Ha Bui, a senior and one of the organizers at George Washington High School.

Students who appear to be girls stand in a row, outside, holding protest signs reading "Stand With Victims" and "My Clothes DON'T Determine My Consent!". They're standing on a football field, the audience seating is visible behind them. They're all wearing COVID masks.
Students at George Washington High School in San Francisco's Richmond District walk out of class for a rally against sexual abuse on Nov. 10, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The students protesting say they want protection even when abuse occurs off campus, and more trauma-informed protocols for people who report abuse.

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They’re hoping to build on momentum from a walkout held last week at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, where students drafted a set of demands. The walkout there was planned by a senior at the school, Daniela S. Oropeza, who said she and other students were fed up by the lack of response to a rape culture on campus. She put up posters around campus that read "Get the Abusers Off Campus."

Those posters are what finally caught administrators' attention on sexual assault, but it should not have taken so long to make them listen, Oropeza said.

"I have had countless meetings with the administration in the years," Oropeza said. "And it's just insane how they say they hear us, but they don't protect us. They don't do anything to change the environment so we feel safe."

KQED's Above the Noise explores student-led #MeToo movements around the world in high schools, demanding an end to sexual assault and harassment. This episode tackles the question: Can this activism actually change rape culture?

Jack Guan, a senior at George Washington High School, said the action there inspired other schools to hold walkouts of their own.

"This issue is not constrained to a current high school. This is a district-wide issue. It's not like we're protesting each school administration — we're protesting all administrations,” Guan said.

George Washington High students had recently set up an Instagram account for students to share their experiences anonymously. They’re hoping to collect information from students about the reporting process to gather data about the district’s response.

"We reply with affirmation, and we hope it will educate people about sexual violence," said Serena Zhang, a senior at George Washington High School, during the rally. “We encourage them to share their stories, but also take action. Another reason we're doing this is to get attention from our school, have them acknowledge victims, and meet our demands.”

Seen from behind, two students hug one another. On the right, a student in a white tshirt with red and blonde hair, the tshirt has red blood-colored palm prints. The student on the left is in a black hoodie. They are standing in a crowd.
Students at George Washington High School in San Francisco's Richmond District walk out of class for a rally against sexual abuse on Nov. 10, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

During the walkout, organizers passed out flyers that described students’ rights under Title IX, the 1972 law that bars gender-based discrimination in federally funded colleges, universities and K-12 schools.

Laura Dudnick, a spokesperson for the school district, said in a statement the district wants all students to know their concerns are taken seriously, and supports students taking action to address issues that concern them.

“We have been working closely with our principals and other school leaders to ensure they are supported in allowing students to exercise their right to free speech,” Dudnick said.

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During a San Francisco Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Shavonne Hines-Foster — who, as a student at Lowell High School and student delegate for the school district, advocated for more support for sexual assault survivors — said the school district still hasn't done enough. Now that she has graduated, she's seeing a second wave of students using social media to call on administrators to address sexual misconduct.

But they shouldn't have to, she said. Adults should have their backs.

“Little to no progress was made. But when it was, it was all from students,” she said. “Students advocating, students emailing, left alone to help each other with this pain. Now the second wave is like no other ... and again, they are not getting what they demand, which is action. Change needs to happen. Title IX, stop having kids do your job.”

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