By: Colleen Daly, EROC Director of Media & Strategic Communications
The North Carolina Governor’s School invited EROC to talk with students following a screening of “The Hunting Ground.” As an alumna of the program, I was excited to reconnect with the place that fostered the passions of many high school students to seek and advance social justice.
I watched their reactions to the documentary—shock, rage, and profound sadness took turns flashing across their faces as the film progressed. By the time the credits rolled and I took the stage, an unsettling calm had taken over the room.
We took a deep breath together. They asked questions. They pondered.
They asked about justice, about prevention, about media. They asked about Stanford. They asked about sexist dress codes. They asked about inadequate policies that invalidate the experience of male survivors. They asked about being effective allies. They asked about their futures.
As the lights dimmed and most of the students filed out of the auditorium, several students remained, walking down to the front to tell their own stories or listen to those of their friends.
It was in this moment that I realized how right Annie Clark is every time she says, “If college orientation is the first time students are hearing about consent and sexual violence, it’s too late.” Most students in North Carolina receive abstinence-only sex education despite the fact that 1 in 8 high school girls report being raped before graduating. We cannot create a culture of respect if we fail to address the egregious violations that are already occurring in our high schools.
It was in that moment that I realized how impactful these conversations are, if for no other reason than that it may be one of the first times a survivor hears “I believe you. It’s not your fault. You are not alone.”
As I walked across campus sometime later, several groups of students were huddled together, arms around one another -- listening, talking, processing. It was powerful to see. I hope they found support and solidarity in that space.
All high school students need to have these conversations. As we celebrate the passing of Virginia House Bill 659, establishing healthy relationship education into health curricula, we will continue to advocate for age-appropriate consent education at all levels. In the meantime, I cherish the opportunity to have been a part of that conversation for these students, and look forward to more to come.