Vt. Students Honored for Work to Dismantle Rape Culture

High schoolers in Vermont’s capital city, Montpelier, were honored Monday for their work to prevent sexual assaults and other forms of sexual violence.

At a conference hosted by the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, professionals applauded a student group at Montpelier High School called The Conversation, which works to raise awareness of sexual assault and behaviors that feed it.

“In order for communities to change, it starts with young people,” said Chris Fenno, the executive director of the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services.

Jordan Allen-Brandon, a high school senior who works as a student leader of The Conversation, described its aim to dismantle rape culture as “more proactive than reactive work.”

The group formed a few years ago, after English teacher Sarah Squier asked her class to write essays about impactful chapters in their lives. The resulting memoirs saw several students revealing childhood sexual abuse or unwanted contact at parties.

“I believe the adults have to start talking about it, because the kids are already talking about it,” Squier told necn. “But they’re talking about it with shame and with fear. And if they knew that we knew it was happening, they’d feel safer.”

Through regular meetings during student support time in school, The Conversation focuses on issues like consent and how alcohol can affect it, or, how to best speak up about offensive jokes or remarks made online and in person.

“What can we do to make sure that we as individuals and as a school are better prepared to help [survivors], and better prepared to prevent [sexual violence] from happening in the future?” Montpelier senior Lily Fournier asked rhetorically, describing the goals of The Conversation.

“We’re not trying to attack anyone, but just rather, to have people question themselves — question their everyday actions,” added another senior, Ethan Rubin.

Montpelier High School educators, as well as the advocates behind the “emerging leaders” honor awarded at Monday’s conference on supporting crime victims, believe The Conversation really has opened eyes and prevented crimes, so they hope the concept spreads to more communities.

“And I think the award is going to inspire us to keep doing our work, and work even harder now — because it is an ongoing problem,” Allen-Brandon said of rape culture.

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