Me Too. Times Up. That these movements exist tell us that there’s a serious problem that we as a society have to solve, but the fact that the words are usually preceded by hashtags— #meetoo and #timesup— tells us that these words are more often written than they are vocalized.
Actually saying that you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment—or date rape or some other form of sexual violence—is not easy. There’s rarely a safe space in which to have that conversation with anyone, and the absence of such a place makes the experience that much more isolating.
Under the circumstances, one might think that a room full of high school students—with all the drama and angst that they embody—would be the last place where anyone would be comfortable saying that they had had such an experience. Yet, it’s proving to be a perfect place.
Educators teaching young people about healthy relationships are finding that students are much more willing to be honest and forthcoming about their experiences if they can do so through the anonymity of an audience response system (ARS). If asked whether they have ever found themselves in a violent relationship, have been harassed or victimized sexually, the anonymity of the ARS creates a safe way for students who have suffered through those experiences to say yes.
When on a screen in the front of the classroom the number of students who say “yes” shows up as greater than one, it’s an extraordinary moment. All these individuals, all thinking that they alone bear the burden of this experience, suddenly realize they are not alone. And that makes a world of difference. It does not diminish their pain or lessen the embarrassment or humiliation they may feel, but it does enable them to realize that they are not alone in these feelings. There are others around them who understand what they are experiencing.
For educators, it is also eye-opening. They may realize that they need to do more to enable suffering students to find their voices and find a safe place in which to have conversations that they have been thus far unable to have. And for the other students? The ones that have not had these experiences? It can be just as eye-opening to realize that such experiences are not just happening in some other school in some other part of the world. It’s a part of their world, which means that they need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.