Editorial: Standing up, flying high and big questions

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    Maya Mintz Coccoluto, with microphone, left, led the student-run protest against sexual harassment on July 8, 2017. The sign "S. A. S. H." stands for "Students Against Sexual Harassment." The walk-out protest began at the Bridge Street School, Northampton, and then progressed into Northampton town center and ended at Pulaski Park.

Published: 7/16/2017 11:39:44 PM

Educators, parents and the community owe a debt of gratitude to the young women of Northampton’s John F. Kennedy Middle School, who have taken to the hallways and the streets to complain of sexual harassment by fellow students and of indifference from school administrators.

Shortly before school ended in June, a group of female students held a sit-in and a march to protest harassment by male students and a school culture that exuded “boys will be boys.” Their call to action broadened on July 8 as they were joined by parents, community members and male middle and high school students in marching through downtown.

“I feel really empowered,” rising ninth grader Maya Mintz Coccoluto told Gazette staff writer Nyssa Kruse after the demonstration. “I want to keep fighting and I want to go bigger.”

Mintz Coccoluto and her fellow students have a right to feel empowered. At a time when the news is filled with reports of sexual harassment from adult politicians, business executives and others, their testimony has made clear that ugly patterns of behavior begin at a young age and flourish when left unchecked.

In the wake of the protests, school officials have reexamined their disciplinary policies and made plans to incorporate anti-harassment lessons into the school curriculum. And they can know with certainty that the students will hold them to account.

“Students don’t feel safe,” said Alani Garcia, a rising eighth grader who said she’s dealt with harassment and online bullying since sixth grade. “I’m going to keep standing up.”

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Also inspiring: Michael Hixon, the Amherst diver and Indiana University student who won a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and bronze at the 2015 FINA World Championships — and just keeps springboarding his way to success.

Beginning Saturday, Hixon will compete at the 2017 Worlds in Budapest, Hungary, hoping to best the best in three separate events: the individual 1-meter, individual 3-meter and, with diving partner Sam Doman, synchronized diving.

Hixon’s earlier successes create a certain amount of pressure going into this week’s events. “There’s a lot of expectations, but we’re going to keep it performance-based, go out there and have a good event,” he told Gazette reporter Kyle Grabowski. “(I’ll) focus on myself, don’t let anything bother me.”

That kind of calm doesn’t come easily to most of us, but it’s critical in a sport where the eyes of the world are focused on one (or two) divers in an aerial dance that unfolds in seconds but carries myriad opportunities for falling short.

Those of us watching from home hope to see Hixon, once again, soar.

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In the Department of Fruit Falling (Not) Far from Tree, the New York Times reports that at dinnertime on June 7, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. sent an email to confirm a meeting with a Russian government attorney who would provide “information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.”

Later that evening, the Times continued, Donald J. Trump won the final primary races needed to secure his nomination as the Republican opponent to Democrat Hillary Clinton. In his victory speech, the senior Trump vowed to detail Clinton’s “corrupt dealings” to give “favorable treatment” to foreign governments, including Russia.

After news broke of Trump Jr.’s meeting, the president said he didn’t know about it until last week. But it raised anew questions about whether the president and/or his supporters had cheerfully participated in a Russian campaign to discredit Clinton and pave the way for an American leader more sympathetic to their cause.

While Trump has recently made a show of standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, his affection for the strongman leader has been clear since his time as a candidate. Perhaps the investigators now probing these and other “coincidences” will help the American public understand why.

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