School community discusses sexual consent


Tom Kelly

Julia Robbins, Staff Writer

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and conversations surrounding the Supreme Court hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, members of the community received an email from Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly this past Sunday, entitled “An Important Message about Sexual Consent.”

The email provided the definition of sexual consent, as developed by the organization “Power Up, Speak Out!”,  along with words of support for survivors of sexual assault and the community at large.

The broader #MeToo movement has been a powerful force in raising awareness about the alarming frequency of sexual abuse, Upper Division (UD) Director of Counseling and Guidance Dr. Daniel Rothstein said.

The school has numerous methods to promote knowledge on the topics of consent and sexual harassment for students, faculty, and parents, in addition to related policies laid out in the Family Handbook.

“The school organizes a day-long visit with the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) for all ninth graders and any 10th or 11th graders new to the school, which covers the topic of sexual consent and harassment,” Head of Upper Division Dr. Jessica Levenstein said. “Among many offerings aimed to educate, inform, and provide space around issues of consent, students can attend Wellness Week programs that directly relate to these issues,” Psychologist Dr. Ian Pervil said. The school also hosts speakers who provide expert information on issues related to abuse, harassment, and consent, and numerous clubs and publications to educate students on topics related to boundaries and consent, he said.

Another method that the school employs to teach students about consent is educational videos in the Health curriculum. All ninth graders watch the video “Consent: It’s as Simple as Tea,” also included in the school-wide email, that shows how consent can be given and taken away as easily as accepting or rejecting a cup of tea.

Eli Scher (10) believes the video is more suited for younger students than high schoolers. The video is a good way to make consent understandable, but it does not reflect the severity of the topic at hand, he said.

Parents can also reach out to the Department of Counceling and Guidance to discuss issues relating to sexual harassment and abuse, Pervil said.

Levenstein is hosting conversations with parents on the topic of consent as part of her “Conversations with the Parents Association,” she said.

The school provides faculty members in-service education and funding for workshops related to issues of consent and harassment, Pervil said.

The Department of Counseling and Guidance hosted a drop-in discussion for faculty on Wednesday “to provide teachers with a place to talk with one another about the challenging questions and conversations that may have come up in their classrooms against the backdrop of last week’s Supreme Court nominee hearings,” Psychologist Dr. Liz Westphal said.

The school will continue to provide students with a safe place to validate their experiences with the trained professionals in the Department of Counseling and Guidance, Levenstein said. Additionally, the school will continue to refer cases of sexual assault to law enforcement, as is required by law, she said.

“The psychologists in the Department of Counseling & Guidance all have experience in helping students manage the emotional consequences of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse,” Rothstein said. “We are here to talk and to think through all types of resources available,” he said.

“If an assault has occurred, a parent or guardian does have to be notified (unless the parent or guardian is the perpetrator of abuse). This can feel daunting; however, it is almost always the case that families rise to the occasion and offer the needed support for their student,” Rothstein said.

“Students should also know that there are organizations outside the school, such as, which provide hotliness and other ways to talk,” he said.

Members of the school community can support the #MeToo movement by “respecting what consent means” and by “serving as an advocate for the work in this area that still needs to be done,” Kelly said.

Consent is self- explanatory and “obvious,” but it is important that the school is addressing the issue, especially because if consent is taught from an early age, it becomes engrained in peoples’ minds, Shay Soodak (11) said.