How to Be a Prestigious School

Tiffany Glenne Afable || Illustration by Nathalia Canlas ||

Trigger warning: This article contains statements regarding sexual harassment and predatory behavior.

Sexual harassment must be condemned in all spaces, but most especially in establishments that are meant to be safe for young learners.

Unfortunately, this is becoming a common occurrence within said establishments. Incidents wherein the perpetrator is a close batchmate or a known upperclassman, or sometimes, even a trusted figure in the faculty have occurred with alarming frequency.

In the past two years, several schools have faced criticism and calls for safer learning environments. With hashtags like #MCHSDoBetter, #SPCPSQUAREUP, #USTSHSDoBetter, and #TimesUpAteneo, victims have come forward about their experiences, and student bodies have amplified their voices in order to create clamor and bring attention to these cases. 

In 2020, eleven victims— students of the Bulacan State University— shared their experiences of being sexually harassed by a teacher, which mostly occurred in their school’s computer laboratory. This sparked a movement among the student body, led by the #SafeSpacesLHSNow. More recently, a similar movement has risen among the Pisay community with the hashtag #PisayDoBetter after a number of students came forward with their stories that uncovered years worth of sexual harassment done by a well-known teacher in their campus. 

However, investigations on these cases don’t seem to be given the urgency they need.

Some educational institutions only write statements as a form of response to sexual harassment cases, such as in the case of the movement #TimesUpAteneo, which had risen within the Ateneo de Manila University’s student community. Many were disappointed with this response. Replies such as Saddened lang? No mention that they should not tolerate it at all?” and “Last year pa ‘to ah. Hindi pa pala resolved ‘to?were posted under the tweet. It is evident from these comments that it seems to take a long time before schools start to take action—poor action—on sexual harassment cases, as if the violation of their students’ security doesn’t  hold much gravity to them.

This kind of treatment has led victims to keep their trauma to themselves. Rather than perpetrators being afraid of the consequences of their actions, the way those in authority respond to such cases create an environment where it is instead the victims who fear the repercussions of coming forward. This place that students consider as their safeguard no longer feels secure.

With the countless times that different student bodies have clamored for justice, with the countless times hashtags like #ProtectYourStudents and #DoBetter have trended on social media, a disturbing pattern begins to emerge: some stories that had occurred years before had been kept in the dark because of how the perpetrator was a personality loved by many.

This then begs the questions: How many more of these stories are in the dark? How many more incidents are in the closets of these prestigious schools, rotting along with the other skeletons they have hidden? How many more victims have to be forced to keep silent? How many more cries have to be left unheard?

Students don’t want strict dress codes. They don’t want statements of sympathy. They want systematic change, which includes justice for the victims and accountability for the perpetrators. And so, this outrageous cycle of drawing a veil over the sexual harassment happening in schools has to stop, because for as long as this goes on, predators will continue to walk down school hallways; this nature that allows predators to run free and students to drown in their trauma must be eradicated.

To the teachers, you are considered as the second parents of these young learners. It is your duty to educate your students properly and to become a figure they can look up to. You must never use your authority as a pass to sexualize and take advantage of them, may it be a joke or not.

To the school administrators, every student has the right to feel secure in their learning environment, and it is your obligation to make sure nothing interferes with that. Your blatant ignorance of the sexual harassment and assault that happens within school hallways is what enables this culture to keep going, and it will continue to prey on your students until you finally decide to step in and act upon it. A reputation—no matter how glorious—is hollow when it stands in a graveyard of the stories you have sent to die without justice.

To the victims, whether you have come forward or are still finding the strength to tell your story, you are immensely courageous. This is your fight, and we will always stand by you. We will continue to push forward until a safe learning environment is made and fuel our voices until this cycle is lit ablaze.

Someday, we will finally see this culture in ashes.

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