The Rape Crisis Center's GameChangers are committed to transforming the culture of sexual violence, and they are starting with their schools.
Each year, the RCC selects 16 high school students for GameChangers, a youth advisory board. The group researches topics like gender roles, cultural misconceptions of consent, and hypersexualization of women in the media. After months of learning the issues, the GameChangers develop projects to educate the community, including a policy summit.
On Saturday, the GameChangers hosted their second annual policy summit. The two-hour event, which took place at Madison's Central Library, included a series of presentations about the contributing causes of rape culture and steps for elected officials, community members and educators to address them.
GameChangers come from high schools across Dane County, including Madison East, Madison West, Memorial, La Follette, Deerfield, Verona, Middleton, McFarland and Waunakee.
Students shared broad information about each topic but also talked specifics, like how rape culture manifests in their schools.
One group critiqued the dress code policies at their high schools, and the messages that words like “distracting others” and “appropriate grooming” can send to girls.
“We want there to be a focus on learning first,” said Rosa Joyce, 17, a junior at La Follette High School. “(The language) implies that boys can’t handle seeing people based on their clothes.”
Ashley Corona, 15, a student at Madison East added that dress code policies often penalize girls more than boys.
“When you pull girls out of class to change, you’re implying girls’ education is not as important as boys," she said.
Another group discussed the sexual assault-to-prison pipeline, the idea that girls are incarcerated for their responses to sexual trauma without dealing with the root causes.
A 2015 report released by the Ms. Foundation, the Human Rights Project for Girls and Georgetown Law School’s Center on Poverty and Inequity said 45 percent of incarcerated girls experienced some sort of complex trauma, compared to 24 percent of boys.
Students referenced how zero-tolerance discipline policies can exacerbate the pipeline, with schools not taking into account factors that lead up to the undesirable behavior.
“The sexual assault-to-prison pipeline is cyclical. There are different entrance points, but there aren’t clear exit points because there are not systems in place to help girls and boys cope with sexual trauma,” said Lindsey Mathews, a senior at Sun Prairie High School. “There are not policies in schools that focus on trauma-informed education.”
During the question-and-answer session, adult audience members asked the GameChangers to share what a trauma-informed school environment would look like.
MacKenzie Krueger, 17, a student at Middleton High School, suggested a greater focus on educating students about what sexual assault is and more mental health supports in schools for students coping with trauma.
“You can’t control what someone else did to you. We should encourage survivors to come forward and speak up. A lot of times, it helps other people do the same thing,” she said. “A lot of people are starting to realize that (sexual assault) is a real issue... I think it’s good that we have more people talking about it.”
Dija Manly, a junior at La Follette High School, said more culturally competent teachers would help students feel more comfortable speaking up.
“As I see it, students can’t relate to their teachers or the resources brought to them," she said. "It is very hard to get support from people when you feel like they don’t understand your background, your history and your culture.
“Even if (teachers) do not come from the same cultural background as you, they have to be willing to go outside of themselves and try to relate and not put stereotypes on you. That will be the most effective help.”