AUSTIN (KXAN) — Crowds of students poured out of the doors of McCallum High School on Monday afternoon, filling the sidewalks and chanting “‘no’ means ‘no!'”
The walkout was planned by students with the goal of raising awareness of how Austin ISD handles reports of sexual assault and harassment.
“If everyone is afraid to talk about it, then nobody is going to do anything about it,” said organizer and senior Clarissa Castro.
Castro estimated hundreds of students joined the march around the school, before the group gathered to listen to stories of survivors and other concerned peers.
“I felt so nervous for her, because I know how big that was for her,” said Lucy Marco, who walked out in support of her younger sister and then stood by as her sister shared her personal experience with the crowd.
Some students told KXAN the walkout started over frustration about a presentation given to students during an advisory class on sexual consent. Others cited specific incidents of alleged assaults on their peers. Castro noted there had also been claims of bullying against people who’d been accused of assault and harassment.
In a letter to parents over the weekend, McCallum Principal Nicole Griffith wrote, “This is an important topic to discuss with your child, which is why I am inviting our students to ‘walk-in’ to a conversation
with me at 1:45 p.m. after lunch in the library. During this discussion, we’ll talk about how we as an administration respond to reports of alleged sexual harassment and assault, how we’re planning to educate our community around these topics and how we can connect victims of sexual assault to resources and support.”
The letter explained students who attended the “walk-in” would be excused from class. Those choosing to walk out would not be excused.
Still, Castro said she felt as if the administration was receptive to her and other walkout organizers. They formed a student committee called McCallum Against Sexual Assault, or MASA, to begin asking for more resources and educational materials to be provided for students.
“School is for education and to have people educate us on the subject is what we really need,” she said.
They are also asking for more “trained professionals” to provide students resources on the reporting and legal processes surrounding allegations of assault and harassment.
“It’s hard to see. No one knows about the laws; nobody knows if teachers have to report things and what that entails,” she said.
This summer, Austin ISD provided increased training to district leaders on these issues, along with implementing several new policies about how these cases are reported and handled:
- All employees hired in the future will receive the sexual assault training
- The district will improve its policies on sexual assault, harassment and discrimination
- All staff will receive an updated training on the First Amendment in schools
- AISD will improve the way it provides information to students and parents about sexual assault, harassment and discrimination
“It can take years for cases to actually go through [the legal system]. But I think some things the school can do that they are not doing is give a good support system,” said freshman Aubrey Mitchell.
Another freshman, Grace Valdez, said she and Mitchell jumped on board just a few hours before the walkout took place, helping paint signs and spreading the word.
Overall, she wants more education for her peers on the definition of consent.
“‘No’ means ‘no.’ Rape is rape, and you believe the person that comes forward when they come forward with their story and their experience,” she said.
Valdez did acknowledge their walkout faced some pushback from other students but said, “Overall it’s a cohesive effort. Everyone believes in it.”
The school also held a meeting for parents and families over Zoom Monday night “to discuss our approach to reports of bullying and alleged sexual assault and harassment.”
They could not discuss specific instances or allegations, and the meeting was only open to McCallum families. They did record the meeting, so school officials could email a copy to anyone who couldn’t attend.