Investigating the Silence that Shrouds the Concerns of Female Students at American High

Vaishnavi Kurupath


     Over thirty years have passed since the first Women’s History Month. From artwork to memes to initiatives, a generation of young people celebrated the accomplishments of women all over the world this year, whilst applauding the success of our efforts in achieving equality. Within American High School itself, flyers and announcements featured celebrations of significant women who have strengthened the movement toward equality. However, these efforts are not indicative of real change occurring within American High, especially change concerning the treatment of women in our student body. In fact, they have led to speculation whether the treatment of female and femme-presenting students at this school has improved over the years, aside from the ground-breaking flyers with QR codes posted all over the school. 

     “I definitely think that there is a huge difference in the way that female students are treated and male students [are treated], inside and outside of the classroom,” says a junior. Certain subtleties in how drama revolves around the students reveal a gap between how the two genders are [treated]. “Some of the comments that people say are definitely questionable,” she continues. “And yeah, they would not have said those kinds of things if it was directed [to the] guys.” 

     Some students attribute this issue to the fact that this is simply how the real world functions. “That’s gonna always happen, unfortunately,” says a female senior. “But it’s a very undeniable issue here.” So, it is not the duty of American High to solve the problem of gender inequity, as this school is not equipped to do so. 

     However, it’s not only these minuscule, “real-world” differences that add to this environment. In fact, the lack of trust female students and femme-presenting students have towards American High specifically is representative of a greater issue than these small dissimilarities.

     A recent situation with the coach of the girls’ tennis team highlighted this predicament. After American High hired a new tennis coach for the girls’ tennis team, the players had much to say. “I think he got hired on the basis that he knows racquet sports, not tennis,” says a female junior. “And so he made [us do] super ridiculous work like exercises and drills, which were not really related to tennis. He didn’t know how scoring [in tennis] worked or anything.”

     The story did not stop at inefficient leadership. “Then he [would] make us do planks. He [would] like to make inappropriate comments about smacking our butts with a racket for our butts to go up during [the] planks. It was very inappropriate [and] uncomfortable, [for] comments [like that] to be thrown around. And then, he would record us doing serves, [but] he wouldn’t share those videos with us. So, he just held on to those videos, which we thought was actually creepy,” she continues.

     The school took action on the issue, as the coach was promptly fired. However, it was the handling of the situation that concerned some students. “I’m honestly kind of disappointed because I thought they would take our complaints more seriously. We would tell them one thing, and then more would happen, and then eventually we had to tell our parents,” says a female junior on the team. “If they had maybe stepped in a little bit earlier and maybe had a talk with their coach, I think a lot of this stuff could have been avoided. Maybe the ending would have been different, and a lot less people would have been impacted.”

     Many female students, both upperclassmen and underclassmen, felt the same way. When asked whether she trusts administration to confront a situation in which she was in danger, a senior says, “I don’t see administration doing anything productive at all. I wouldn’t see that happening at all.” When asked why she felt this way, she cited that her feelings were “based on how I’ve seen situations like this handled. It’s usually thrown under the rug. That’s a big thing [here]. Since it’s more acceptable in society to throw things under the rug, that’s just [where this] tends to go, which is unfortunate but the truth. I think they’re more comfortable doing that.”

     A lack of perceived action on the school’s behalf is what sparks these feelings of [vulnerability]. “There was a teacher in Thornton, who was incredibly gross to girls and was incredibly touchy and made inappropriate comments. A group of people went to the administration, but he is still currently employed [at American],” says another femme-presenting senior. “He’s still working at the school. There are [other] teachers who are still working at the school, who have done things like that.”

     Male students also express an uncertainty towards the schools’ treatment of these sensitive situations. “There have been allegations towards guys, [and] nothing happens with them. I’m not sure if that’s a lack of action on the school’s [behalf] to take action against it, or if it was just not getting out,” says a male senior. Another junior chimes in saying that “a lot of things happen over text, mainly over group chats of those sorts, so the administration doesn’t have a lot of power over that. [But] they don’t really take any action to stop it at the source. So [when] something happens, it’s already happened, and they might address it. It’s just going to keep happening unless they actually start thinking, ‘Hey, maybe we should stop treating women like this in the first place.’”

     Doubt and insecurity cloud the conversations regarding this issue, and it is apparent through the fear that many students feel to speak out on this issue to begin with. When asked whether she would confide in administration about [something]  that troubled her, a sophomore responds, “I feel like I had to hold back a little bit because I was just scared of how people would respond to it.”

     Despite their short time here, it seems that other underclassmen have the same impression. Two freshmen chimed in about whether they trust American High to take action in a situation where they were in harm’s way. “I don’t trust them to do something about it efficiently and effectively. Sure, they would do something about it, but not that much,” says one freshman. “If I was talking about it, they would listen to me [and] respect me; but I feel like they wouldn’t actually do anything about it,” says another freshman. 

     For underclassmen to enter this school with a preconceived notion about American High, there must be a significant, underlying issue when it comes to the school’s relationship with its female students. The source of this tension could lie in how previous situations were handled, or in the lack of change students witness in other policies. “I haven’t seen any big changes. Like I still see people getting dress coded. Pretty minimal [progress],” says one sophomore. 

     “They follow the rules when it’s against women, but not when it’s for women,” claims another senior. 

     So, what will it take to repair this relationship? Open conversation is the first step. Out of all the students that were interviewed regarding the vague treatment of female students in this school, the vast majority insisted on staying anonymous. This is not because what is being said is some confidential information that must be guarded from the rest of the school. Conversations regarding this do happen in school in hallways, near locker blocks, at lunch tables. This subject is not new; it has yet to receive the recognition it deserves. As we celebrate more and more Women’s History Months, we must ask ourselves whether we can truly acknowledge our progress without addressing the silence that shrouds the many of the students around us in the present. 

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