Posted on

Pandemic high school

By Mackenzie Cramer

Before attending high school, most kids have certain expectations thanks to the media. There are many movies, TV shows, and books specifically about high school, and a common the momentous event, school dances. They are often portrayed as dramatic turning points where huge revelations are made. Sadly, reality does not match its sanitized and dramatized counterparts.

The picture-perfect moment has turned into a nightmare for some. Instead of bonding moments with friends or dress reveals, dances have become synonymous with groping, discomfort, and bad music — a microcosm of the greater high school culture.

Savannah Newton, a senior at Maria Carrillo High School, said, “Dances are a crowded, dark place where I’ve seen a lot of people experience unwanted physical attention. Some people seem to be under the impression that since everyone is dancing together that dancing is out of the bounds of consent, but it really isn’t. Teachers try to help by prohibiting grinding and similar dancing, but they never teach how to be safe or what to do when someone comes at you without consent.”

Ava Hamelburg, a junior at Windsor High School, offered, “School dances have been the most uncomfortable experiences in my high school career … Even just waiting in line, you can already tell that people are drunk, and yet they never seem to be the ones who get breathalyzed … Have you ever made eye contact with someone while they were grinding against their girlfriend who is twerking while getting as low to the floor as the chaperone will allow? Not to mention the fact that I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been groped when some confused guy mistook me for his date. All in all, horrible experience.”

I reached out to some male high schoolers, but none had anything to comment.

Exposing kids as young as 14 to such experiences isn’t unusual. Many high schools face issues concerning sexual harassment and unwanted touching under their watch, and dances allow for such problems to come to the forefront. Criticism of schools’ passive approach toward inexcusable behavior is commonplace, but time away from high schools’ physical sites (and dances) only underscores how embedded disrespectful conduct is in current high school culture.

Although people may not be physically subjected to such treatment in the current virtual landscape, past experiences are not simply forgotten. Furthermore, some high schools are attempting to have drive-through dances to make up for lost proms and homecomings. And just as schools are adjusting, so are students; behavior displayed at dances has not disappeared—its form has simply shifted.

Reports of “Zoom bombing,” where uninvited attendants join and disrupt the event, have caused teachers to secure their classrooms by means of waiting rooms, which allow you to review participants before permitting them to enter the classroom. This added assurance has proved necessary but not infallible. Some participants have found ways around these measures by entering under other people’s names, such as the principal or other staff members. Once in, they typically turn their cameras or microphones on and disrupt class until the host can kick them out or censor them.

This has happened multiple times and has often targeted women and/or people of color. At my high school, instances of random swearing, homophobic remarks, privately sexist comments, and (in perhaps the most extreme example) incidents where interrupters played audio from pornographic material, have taken place during school hours in front of an audience of students. Understandably, both students and staff are often surprised and appear to have little idea how to respond in these situations. A quick nervous laugh and awkward silence seems to be the most common reaction before moving forward as scheduled. Despite numerous occurrences, there still seems to be a lack of a specific and unified approach to handling these cases (especially in a virtual landscape), leaving kids blinking at their screens and asking themselves, “Did that really just happen?” Zoya Ahmed, a senior at Maria Carrillo High School, told me, “Personally, I’ve seen campus culture has just become way too desensitized to sexual abuse or racial harassment … Being in high school and going through and experiencing this and seeing my friends experience it, staff and admin aren’t always who we go to when addressing the problem.”

If students don’t feel comfortable going to staff in these situations, then who can they turn to? How can these changes be made if the problem is not being recognized in the first place?

Although we are in an “unprecedented” time, concerning cultural norms and behavior have not disappeared. Schools face the same issues that they did in person, just in a different format. However, the high school experience of this generation’s youth will remain in its concerning state (virtual or otherwise) if little action is taken.

Counseling Services Agency: (707) 545-7270 National Sexual Assault Hotline: (800) 656-4673 Youth Crisis Line Agency: (916) 514-4464 Mackenzie Cramer is a senior at Maria Carillo High School.