Unity Council and WHEE host forum on sexual assault


Eric Hang

WHEE leaders Schuyler Gustafson (’18) and Katie Smith (’18) helped organize the sexual assault forum.

Noura Jabir, Laney Chang, and Abigail Poag

Unity Council and Women Helping Empower Each Other co-hosted a forum on April 19 to discuss the effects of the #MeToo movement and the relationship between power dynamics and sexual assault.

Since leaders and sponsors of both clubs were worried that female students or upperclassmen would dominate the discussion, they were pleased to find students across grades and genders in attendance. According to chemistry teacher Sarwat Jafry, a Unity Council sponsor, the relevance of sexual assault and harassment resulted in the unusually large turnout of 80 people.

“It’s an issue that affects both boys and girls,” Jafry said. “It’s really important that both genders hear each other’s viewpoints, start talking about these issues and have positive dialogue.”

The forum was designed to be a safe environment for students to share their thoughts on sexual assault. In order to ensure that students were comfortable, Jafry, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Gene Batiste and other faculty sponsors did not participate in the conversations.

“I didn’t want to intrude because I really wanted to make sure that students felt comfortable being able to discuss issues at their tables,” Jafry said. “If I were sitting at a table, some students would most likely be reserved.”

Instead, discussions, which were led by leaders from Unity Council, WHEE or an affinity group, took place in small groups at each table. The conversation revolved around a list of questions prepared by the Unity Council Executive board, Batiste and math teacher Elizabeth Goldman.

“The executive board structured the questions and the forum so that certain points were addressed and certain discussion topics would be discussed,” AAAG leader Warda Mohamed said.

Mohamed, who led the discussion at her table, said that the questions provided structure for the dialogue, but additional discourse was necessary to keep the conversation flowing.

“I tried to add onto the questions in my group based on the answers people in my group gave,” Mohamed said. “I used my own follow-up questions.”

Before the forum, all facilitators underwent training with Batiste so that they knew how to stay focused and make sure everyone’s voice was heard.

Unity Council co-chair senior Layo Laniyan credits the clubs’ teamwork for the forum’s success.

“Both clubs brought our own skill and experience to the table, and we combined our skills so the forum would have the greatest effect possible,” Laniyan said.