On the morning of October 12th, Sequoyah School students “walked out” of classes to protest against the normalization of rape culture and sexual harassment, but there was a catch: students had to turn in a permission slip, signed by their parent or guardian to walk. The type of trip was marked as a day trip and due to the permission slip, many students including us did not walk out.
We feel the school’s support, and we are so grateful for the opportunity and the voices that they have fostered, but we feel as if permission slips are a barrier to true and proud social justice.
This walkout was not truly a walkout, and it did not feel like it was really to protest sexual assault either. Students were not given any information about it except in one short Morning Meeting announcement, and we were handed permission slips later on in the week. In fact, none of their announcements, including the permission slip, made the plans of the walkout clear.
As permission slips were handed out, it lessened the urgency of the walkout. This made it feel as though it was a bigger priority to have the students stay safe, rather than to help the issue itself. Instead of standing with a bit of administrative upheaval to support a serious issue, they decided to stay with a safe option that felt less supportive of the cause. With so much on the line, it is necessary to break the rules a little bit. It is easy to forget sometimes that there are always people around us who are subjected to that exact type of discrimination that we are fighting against while getting caught up in our passions trying to help a human rights cause, but simply, there are people around us who are hurt. The permission slip should not have been a main priority while the purpose of the walkout was to protest such an important issue, and more attention should have been given towards the walkout in weeks prior.
Anytime you are speaking out about sexual assault it is important to remember that there will statistically always be at least one person around you who has been sexually assaulted, and probably some who do not feel valid or heard. According to The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, every year in the United States there are 321,500 victims or rape of sexual assault each year, and 1 out of 6 American women have been sexually assaulted. The idea of this walkout was beautiful: give people voices they never thought they could have, but the execution of this wasn’t as thoughtful as we would have liked, and thus didn’t feel powerful enough, ultimately.
Some students, such as junior Reyna Revel and senior Seth Breen, felt that “a permission [slip] diminished the purpose of a walkout,” as Revel said. Breen said, “The point of a walkout is not to have a permission slip to do so, it’s not a day trip, and sexual harassment and rape isn’t something small that should be overlooked.” Revel said, “a walkout is supposed to be an act of civil disobedience” and that “it takes the power off of something so powerful” to have a permission slip.
We cannot make a significant change in the world without addressing issues within our own community first. Let us encourage students to speak about their stories and their opinions. By opening spaces on campus we can open the minds of the students, the faculty, and then the world. We could invite guest speakers to hold conversations, we could create a Stewardship committee to address controversial issues on campus, we could dedicate a month to learn and talk about this, perhaps even during Women’s History Month, and we can start by letting students walk out without the burden of permission. If we have to ask permission to protest for an issue we are so passionate about, it feels like a burden because then our passion is no longer deemed by the administration as a priority. Let us consider the struggles that those in the Sequoyah community have faced, and let us follow in the footstep of kids before us by taking a stand of civil disobedience. Let us shake up the status quo and march for something, not because we have permission to do so, but because our anger and our passion would not be heard without permission. Are we trying to play it safe, or are we trying to make a point and help those around us?
We are grateful that Sequoyah allows us to voice our opinions, and that we are able to walk out in the first place, but hope that the execution could be better in the future. We do not believe that Sequoyah would have punished anyone for walking without a permission slip, but having a permission slip does not feel like something the school would stand for.
Sequoyah held a walkout against gun violence last year, complete with an ad hoc committee from the Steering Committee and a discussion period to enhance its true meaning and power. Simply put, this walkout needed just as much, or even more attention, just like all issues should get. Both causes are important, as all causes are, and we should continue to honor the victims of these horrible acts. This issue, our community, and the duty we owed to ourselves deserved better.