Hundreds of students walked out of classes at a Cambridge public high school Tuesday in protest of sexual assaults, sexual harassment, and their impact on the school community, officials said.
The demonstration, which follows two large recent student walkouts in Quincy and Braintree protesting racism, was organized by students calling for a heightened educational focus on sexual consent and other measures. Cambridge Superintendent Victoria Greer vowed to listen and work to address students’ concerns.
“When I see incidents like this happen, I think of how can we support our students, ensure their voices are heard, and address any needs for improvement,” Greer told the Globe. “This is one of those moments, we use it as a teachable moment, and we use it to make improvements collaboratively that we all want to see happen.”
Between 400 and 500 students left class at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School at 10:15 a.m. and continued protesting through at least 12:20 p.m., Principal Damon Smith told families in an email.
Several students spoke about their personal experiences. School social workers and deans were working to follow up with those students and the school set up spaces for students to access support, Smith said.
The protest did not seem to be sparked by anything recent, though officials are still investigating, Greer said. Greer did not attend the protest but said she learned that students shared personal stories there that involved incidents from prior school years that occurred off-campus at private homes or parties.
“We’re doing an extensive investigation to make sure there has not been a recent incident that were not aware of,” Greer said.
Greer said the students made three demands of administrators: mandatory education for 9th graders, including student athletes, on sexual consent; student-led conversations about sexual assault and harassment; and an update to the high school’s incident reporting system to ensure that reports are investigated.
Greer, who started as superintendent this school year, said she already had requested the Cambridge School Committee update the school’s health and wellness education policy as part of a routine review. The school has implemented a new curriculum that discusses sexual harassment and sexual assault, she added.
Greer said she also has been working to revamp incident-reporting procedures to allow people to report to multiple people, including people outside the school. And she said she was interested in fostering student conversations, though she cautioned that topics such as sexual assault and harassment must be handled carefully due to their sensitive nature so she wanted to move cautiously on that request.
“I’m not opposed to it,” Greer said. “I just want to make sure that we’re doing it in a way that we’re not causing further harm.”
The demonstration comes after two separate large student walkouts at local high schools in recent weeks, prompting leaders to vow to listen and try to address students’ concerns.
On Nov. 12, hundreds of students left classes at Quincy High School to protest the administration’s handling of racism by students after two students’ recordings circulated on social media that used racist language.
On Nov. 15, at least 300 students walked out of their classes at Braintree High School, protesting what they viewed as the administration’s inadequate response to racist episodes involving students, including students using the n-word, students making fun of a Black teacher’s accent, as well as other derogatory terms and microaggressions directed at people of color.
Naomi Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.