CAMBRIDGE — Dozens of students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School walked out of class early Wednesday afternoon to decry unwelcome sexual advances and other inappropriate behavior inside the school and in the larger world.
Students issued a two-page letter to the administration demanding changes to the school climate and to its handling of student reports of harassment or assaults.
The protest grew out of discussions in a school’s gender theory class and a survey showing many students had experienced uninvited advances and even assaults, said Klara Ingersoll, 17, and Bentley Sloane, 16, members of the feminist student organization, Club 1.
The group organized the protest for National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“Even one story is too many, but there were just so many,” Sloane said outside the school.
Ingersoll said the group was also inspired by a visit to the school by a cofounder of the group End Rape on Campus.
“A lot of us are thinking about if we go off to higher [education] institutions or jobs, what it’s going to be like dealing with sexual harassment or assault there. And we know it’s huge in college,” Ingersoll said.
Facing the school, student protesters held signs bearing anonymous stories of some of the things their classmates said they had experienced:
“I am catcalled and groped in the hallways.”
“There is a group of boys who sits by the H2O fountain & watches girls lean over.”
One sign said starkly: “I still see my rapist in HRVRD SQ.”
The protest follows recent actions by high school and college students around the country that are drawing attention to social issues.
The Cambridge students’ letter calls for faculty to refer to sexual crimes by the proper terms, rather than calling them “bullying” or just “incidents.”
It demands that all faculty be trained to deal with reports of improper sexual behavior and asks that the school hire someone educated about Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education.
It calls for a clearly stated and widely distributed policy on harassment and assault, including information on when parents must be contacted, and asks that students be allowed to decide to whom they report an assault or harassment.
It asks that students be allowed to change their schedules to avoid sharing a class or lunch period with someone who has harassed or assaulted them.
Jeffrey Young, superintendent of Cambridge schools, said both he and the school’s principal attended the protest.
“The students represented experiences that exist in our school community, and they provide a strong reminder that our community has to continually work to make certain that we are living up to the CRLS core values of opportunity, diversity, and respect,” Young said in a statement. “Clearly, there is work to be done.”
Protester Luca Vermeer, 17, said teenage girls experience harassment regularly, and she believes it is part of a wider problem with popular culture.
“Guys are raised around music and situations where the more girls you sleep with, it’s like another notch in your belt, and you become this idol, or whatever,” Vermeer said. “All the girls didn’t really consent because we’re raised in a world where we are considered the notches.”Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.