Students at a northwest Calgary school are planning to participate in a walkout on Wednesday to protest against sexual harassment.
Fourteen-year-old Ellee McInnes, a Grade 9 student at Twelve Mile Coulee School, said she was motivated to organize the rally by what she’s witnessed as well as her own experiences.
She said both she and her friends have experienced sexual harassment at school and outside of school, and feels the perpetrators brush it off as no big deal.
“It happens anywhere and everywhere,” McInnes told Global News. “It makes me feel dehumanized. It makes me feel like I’m just something that people can honk at or grab or use or just talk to in a dehumanizing way.”
“They don’t want to share what’s happened to them because of the shame and the backlash that happens afterwards,” said Ellee’s mom, Melanie Isabelle. “Now that’s not the school’s fault. There’s nothing they can do about what comes afterward.”
“I hope that this (rally) can create a safer environment for girls to help other girls and for girls to stand up for themselves, and to educate boys — and just in general, people — on proper sexual conduct and manners,” McInnes said.
“This is a general human issue that we need to deal with and it needs to stop,” McInnes added. “I have gotten a lot of positive (feedback) from the Tuscany awareness group on Facebook, of parents cheering me on. I’ve had classmates cheer me on. I’ve had some teachers cheer me on.”
The school’s principal issued a letter to parents and guardians on Tuesday saying staff are aware of the protest.
“Organizers of this student-led protest are concerned about the stigma around harassment and sexism, and want to support a safer environment for women,” Derek Rakowski said. “These are conversations that as a school we will continue to have, especially after the protests that have been taking place in London, England.”
Protests over violence against women have been held in the U.K. recently to remember Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old London resident whose killing prompted a national outcry.
Rakowski said he gathered all Grade 9 students at the school together in the gym on Tuesday, at which time he reiterated that discrimination, bullying and harassment in any form will not be tolerated.
He also noted that “peaceful protest is part of all of us learning to be an informed and productive citizen, as long as it is appropriately and respectfully done.”
“As an educator and school leader, I also think we need to use this to engage in continuing conversations around these issues, as this is a great teachable moment for parents and teachers to utilize with the students,” Rakowski said in the letter.
He said he and other school staff met with students involved in planning the rally to discuss COVID-19 safety with them.
“The school has actually been super supportive,” Isabelle said. “When Ellee has had her own grievances, they’ve done everything right. I don’t have a complaint as far as the school is concerned.”
In an email to Global News, the CBE said it has “clear and strong expectations for all members of our school communities to support welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning and work environments.”
“The CBE recognizes the importance of public schools in creating a stronger democracy and the right of students to advocate for important causes.
“While we support student voice and engagement, parents/guardians should be aware that this student walkout is not a CBE-sanctioned event. We will not encourage participation, nor will we prevent students from walking out or re-entering the school at the end of the protest.”
The rally at Twelve Mile Coulee School starts at 10 a.m.
— with files from Carolyn Kury de Castillo