Responding to the 2011 murder of Wayland teen Lauren Astley, students and staff at neighboring Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School have joined together to tackle issues connected to dating violence.
Their yearlong effort is culminating this week with an assembly for their fellow students and a public performance Thursday night of “The Yellow Dress,’’ a one-woman play that tells the story of a young woman who is involved in a relationship that begins as young love, and ends in tragedy.
The play and the assembly will help the students identify the warning signs of abusive behaviors, understand the aspects of teen dating violence, and learn how to help friends and family members, and how to develop school community awareness of the issue, according to Lori Hodin, a psychology teacher at Lincoln-Sudbury and coordinator of its Safe School Initiative.
“I remember being so upset about the Lauren Astley murder,’’ Hodin said. “That could have easily been one of my students.’’
“The Yellow Dress’’ will be performed at 7 p.m. Thursday in Kirshner Auditorium at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional, 390 Lincoln Road in Sudbury. The free event is being sponsored by the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund. A performance for students is being held during the school day.
Astley was 18 when she was killed by a former boyfriend, Nathaniel Fujita, who was convicted in March of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The two had dated for three years but broke up in the spring of 2011, their senior year at Wayland High School.
On July 3, 2011, Fujita lured Astley to his family’s home in Wayland, and killed her in a violent attack before dumping her body, according to testimony during his trial.
Hodin said the murder prompted her to restart the Lincoln-Sudbury Mentors in Violence Prevention program. MVP, a nationwide initiative based out of Northeastern University’s Institute of Sport and Society, encourages athletes to use their status to promote healthy relationships.
“MVP uses athletes because of their status, and trains them to use their status to prevent abuse against women,’’ Hodin said. “Teen boys do not have many positive male role models showing emotional sensitivity, and dealing with sadness in open and caring ways.’’
Hodin said staff members and students received training from Northeastern last year. Over the past year, the violence prevention team focused on responding to recent examples of abusive relationships, including Lauren Astley’s murder.
A core group of student-athletes prepared Thursday’s assembly for their peers and planned for the production of “The Yellow Dress.’’
Malcolm Astley, Lauren’s father, has attended some of the planning sessions, and commended the school and students for tackling the issue.
“It was deeply heartening to watch the care, concern, and determination in the high school student leaders as they worked through the painful and alarming information and issues to develop a strong presentation for their peers that they believed would help reduce men’s violence against women,’’ Astley said.
He said it is exactly the type of programming that is needed in all of the state’s schools.
“From the presentation, we hope word will spread as to the needs involved and the solutions at hand,’’ Astley said. “It is powerful to have peer leaders involved since young people will go to each other first about abusive relationships.
“If student leaders are spreading awareness, are alert together, and linked with trusted adults, we will provide the safety net we need to prevent men’s violence against women among young people, and even the larger culture as they grow into adults,” he said.
“The Yellow Dress’’ is produced and directed by Deana’s Educational Theater, a nonprofit organization based in Wakefield.
Following Thursday night’s performance, Mary Dunne, Lauren Astley’s mother, will briefly speak to the audience.Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can
be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com.