November 24, 2017

After Astley – breakup violence awareness in a post-tragedy world

Last month's half day featured a presentation for students by Malcolm Astley, the father of a victim of dating violence. (Photo by Rachel Landau '16)

Malcolm Astley is many things. He is a husband, a retiree, and a profound, emotional person. First and foremost, though, he is an educator, a man who has made it his duty to travel the country to provide insight and scrutiny into the subject that seized not only his daughter but countless others in recent years.

This subject, dating and breakup violence, is an inherently uncomfortable topic among high school students. Nonetheless, as he has in so many other schools, Astley took to the auditorium stage on Wednesday, January 6 to speak to the senior class on dating and breakup violence awareness and prevention among high school students

Astley spoke for about an hour, followed by a brief speech by Jessica Teperow, a representative for the REACH Beyond Domestic Violence program. Their speeches touched on similar subjects: male violence; abuse; the danger of societal competition; the importance of cultivating safe communities; the necessity of condemning violence, and the responsibility of friends to ensure other friends’ safety. However, it was not what they said that was most important, but the reactions they provoked among the senior class.

“I really appreciated how much Dr. Astley seemed to speak from his heart,” said James Flores ’16. “To see a grown man unafraid to show his true emotions and vulnerability to an auditorium full of strangers speaks volumes to his bravery and one of his messages of the necessity of addressing one’s emotions instead of pushing them away or ignoring them.”

Other seniors agreed and seemed to connect with many aspects of Astley’s speech. “I enjoyed the delivery of Dr. Astley’s speech because he made it genuine, honest, and relatable,” said Sarah Cohen-Pratt ’16. “He did not focus in on his daughter’s death, as tragic as it was, but instead focused the speech on how we can prevent dating violence and how we can help change the culture around the treatment of women.”

Sarah Ditelberg ’16 agreed that Astley focusing on the issue of dating violence in general was more effective than highlighting his own personal experiences. “[Astley] talked to us in order to help prevent that sadness [from his own experiences] from occurring in our personal lives,” said Ditelberg. “Honestly, there was not anything I did not like, [though] I wish he had talked about warning signs in relationships.”

Other seniors also had a few minor issues, with Astley’s speech in particular. “I did not like him as a speaker,” said Harrison Gill ’16. “He repeated sentences throughout his speech, and I wish he talked more about his own experience. I think that his experience needs to be shared to raise awareness, but I don’t think that a 40 minute speech is what he should be doing.”

“I felt like he could have added more information for students on the warning signs of dating violence so that kids know what to look for,” said Cohen-Pratt.

While most seniors agree the speech was not perfect, they all had very important takeaways that they have internalized.

“A tangible thing that I can actually take away is to just check on your friends when they go into a room with someone else,” said Gill. “Send them a text, know their location, etc. Look after your friends.”

“I’m glad he covered the statistics on dating violence — it happens much more than I previously thought,” said Ditelberg. “His talk definitely opened my eyes on the situation. Especially now that we’re going to be in different places next year, I think us seniors have a greater awareness of dating violence and will have an easier time identifying unhealthy relationships in college and afterwards.”

An integral facet of Astley’s speech was the treatment and stigmatizing of breakups in high school.

“He talked about how many times break-ups are viewed as unnecessary tragic moments in our lives and how easily they can mean the end of the world for some people,” said Flores. “But in reality [break-ups] are two people separating because the infatuation they had was gone and their relationship just was not working.”

“I think he did a great job really relating to the student body,” said Cohen-Pratt. “Lauren was almost the same age as we are, and at least for me and my friends, it made us think about losing one of our best friends and how awful that would be.”

“Dr. Astley also addressed that in the case of a painful break-up, there is a huge importance for girls and boys alike to have tools and outlets to deal with the emotions of their break-up and how detrimental to our health keeping those emotions to ourselves is, and I really appreciated that,” said Flores.

Even though Teperow did not speak for as long as Astley did, her message had a similar impact.

“While I think Dr. Astley’s talk was effective, I think Teperow’s speech and delivery did a better job of getting her and Dr. Astley’s points across,” said Flores.

“Teperow’s talk about how dating violence is more prevalent than we would think also applies to situations like rape, self harm, anorexia/bulimia, child/spousal abuse, depression/anxiety, addiction, etc.,” said Cohen-Pratt. “These are issues that affect SO many of the students at Wellesley High School but seem to not be talked about or recognized.”

Takeaways like this were the most important facets of the speeches. Speakers can come to the high school bringing as many statistics and numbers as they want, but dating violence will only become a widely known and well-addressed issue if students take it seriously.

“A lot of times in Wellesley, kids do not talk about incidents like dating violence or abuse within a home in order to make it seem like their lives are perfect,” said Cohen-Pratt.

Gill shared a similar sentiment. “Dating violence is an issue that is more relevant than people realize,” he said.  “Obviously people aren’t being murdered every week, but I think Wellesley kids underestimate how much the subtle things go on.”

Said Flores, “Not only will [hearing these speeches] help create an understanding of the reality of dating abuse, but it will also help [create] preventative measures for others.”

“I knew that [dating violence] was a problem,” said Ditelberg. “But hearing the statistics of how many people are affected by it was unsettling; not only could that person be me at some point, but it could be a close friend. And although we don’t hear about anything, Wellesley isn’t immune.”

These positions may seem radical, like scare tactics coming from the same type of adults that constantly come in to lecture high schoolers. However, just because dating violence is frightening does not mean people should not addressed the issue. As society’s collective awareness of domestic violence increases, so too does the conversation around it, and this increased consciousness among the senior class will do nothing but good.

“I think a lot of seniors will be able to become more attuned to the warning signs of dating violence,” said Flores. “And [we now] have a better chance of taking measures to prevent such abuse rather than staying ignorant or scared to deal with such a prevalent issue in our world.

(Zach Miller ’17, Features Editor)

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