Camilla Hanson ’21 is the founder of the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Club (SAAP), a club formed just this year at the high school to provide a safe enviroment that fosters sincere and open-ended discussion surrounding sexual assualt and harassment.
Hanson had no hesitations when beginning the process of founding this club, because she, along with other students, has noticed both stigma and neglect around the discussion of sexual assault at the high school.
“Particularly in the Wellesley community, I feel like sexual assault is played down as something that ‘doesn’t really happen here,’ when, in fact, it does. While we would occasionally discuss sexual assault and rape in English classes, the conversations didn’t nearly reach the depth that I wished to see, and I wanted to create a space dedicated to just that,” said Hanson.
“SAAP is the first place I’ve been able to have a genuine, informative conversation about sexual assault in a school setting. The only place I’ve ever heard it even mentioned is health class, but even that is pretty brief,” said Lucy Calcio ’22, a member of SAAP.
The high school administration, however, had hesitations when the club began.
“Initially, there were some concerns from the administration because this can be a sensitive topic for many people and they wanted to ensure students had the support they needed,” said Hanson. “However, after a few more conversations, we were able to agree on a way to format the club that would create a safe environment by having Ms. Gray, one of the school psychologists, join.”
This club is unlike other clubs in the sense that it has two adults present, Psychologist Ms. Melissa Gray, and English teacher Ms. Jacqueline Maxwell.
“Ms. Maxwell and I worked with Hanson to think about the best formats for running the club and focusing on the education and prevention aspects of sexual assault. Hanson does a great job preparing topics and leading conversations so on a weekly basis. Ms. Maxwell and myself attend club meetings and make ourselves available should anything come up or should students need support — however all the content and discussions are created by the students,” said Gray.
“I think this club has a lot of potential to give voice to many who have been silenced for too long. I want to make sure that students feel supported in the club, and so does Ms. Gray, which is why we are fortunate to have her as our co-advisor,” said Maxwell.
This club meets every Monday on Zoom from 4:00-4:45 PM and is a place for students to learn about the prevention of sexual assault as well as discuss any of these issues with compassionate and supportive peers.
“One of our main goals is to have a stronger presence at the high school, so that people, especially survivors who may be feeling unsupported or unheard, know that sexual assault is not something tolerated here, and that there are students committed to making a change,” said Hanson.
Another problem at the high school and in the world as a whole is the stigma surrounding sexual assault. Hanson wants SAAP to gain as much popularity as possible in order to contribute to the destigmatization of it in our community, which is a vital step in the fight for change regarding this issue.
“Recently, our meetings have been focusing a lot on ways the school could incorporate teaching about consent and preventing assault into the health curriculum, and that is a longer-term goal we’re pursuing,” said Hanson.
Hanson has two general types of meetings in which she alternates every other week: one centered around discussion and reflection on a certain topic, and the other which is based on future steps the club as a whole can take to create change.
“During discussion and reflection-based meetings, I usually prepare a few articles or videos centered around a certain topic –– for example, sexual violence against Native American women, or sexual assault on college campuses. After spending independent time reviewing the sources, we come together for twenty to thirty minutes of discussion. Ms. Maxwell and Ms. Gray attend these meetings to ensure that people have professional support if they need it, as some of these topics may be triggering or difficult to process,” said Hanson.
Then, the following week, action-based meetings typically allow time for members to share what they want to address in upcoming meetings, or time for planning out ways to raise awareness.
“I really value the input of the other members of the club, so these meetings are really important to me because I can hear my peers’ ideas,” said Hanson.
As of right now, thirty people are signed up to be a part of SAAP, which is more than Hanson ever anticipated. However, only three of these individuals are men.
Hanson hopes that students are aware that anyone, no matter of gender or sexual orientation, is welcome and accepted into this tight-knit community. Although the members are majority female and this could be intimidating to men looking to join, Hanson stresses that it is important for all genders to be present in the discussions that go on within this club.
“It is a fact that most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by men, and at the end of the day, sexual assault should be seen as a men’s issue, though it is typically deemed a ‘women’s issue.’ In order to even begin to dismantle rape culture, everyone must take part, not just women,” said Hanson.
“All genders can be survivors of sexual assault, and all genders can be perpetrators of sexual assault. Contributing or even just listening to these conversations is a step in the right direction,” said Sydney Spangler ’21, a member of SAAP.
The SAAP club is a huge step in the right direction for the high school community, and its founders and members hope that it continues to create positive change through meaningful and educational conversations.
“I believe education is the backbone to change. Learning about this issue helps destigmatize it, which empowers survivors to come forward, encourages bystanders to intervene, and can prevent assaults from happening in the first place by encouraging conversations between people about boundaries and consent. Sexual assault is undeniably a huge issue in our current society, and it may seem daunting to tackle such a pervasive problem. However, if you can prevent just one sexual assault, you have still changed the course of someone’s life,” said Hanson.