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‘I believe them’: Northampton High School students stage walkout in support of sexual assault survivors

  • Left, Kamini Waldman,14, and Julia Albro-Fisher,14, take a picture of their hands which say, "I believe them," as part of a student organized walk out at Northampton High School to demonstrate support of sexual abuse survivors spurred by the controversy over the Kavanaugh nomination for Supreme Court. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Students during a walk out in at Northampton High school organized to demonstrate support of sexual abuse survivors spurred by the controversy over the Kavanaugh nomination for Supreme Court. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Students during a walk out in at Northampton High school organized to demonstrate support of sexual abuse survivors spurred by the controversy over the Kavanaugh nomination for Supreme Court. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader, 17, left, and Adelaide Greene hold up their hands, which say, "I believe them," as part of a student-organized walkout at Northampton High School, Monday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Adelaide Greene, 15, talks about the student walk out in at Northampton High school organized to demonstrate support of sexual abuse survivors spurred by the controversy over the Kavanaugh nomination for Supreme Court. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Students during a walk out in at Northampton High school organized to demonstrate support of sexual abuse survivors spurred by the controversy over the Kavanaugh nomination for Supreme Court. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bryan Lombardi, the principal of Northampton High School, talks about the student organized walk out to demonstrate support of sexual abuse survivors spurred by the controversy over the Kavanaugh nomination for Supreme Court. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Students during a walk out in at Northampton High school organized to demonstrate support of sexual abuse survivors spurred by the controversy over the Kavanaugh nomination for Supreme Court. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer 
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Students chanted “Our bodies, our rights” and “I believe survivors” during a 15-minute walkout Monday on the front steps of Northampton High School. Many dressed in black as a show of solidarity with the two women who have come forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

“This is a lifetime appointment,” said sophomore Adelaide Greene, an event organizer and speaker, speaking to a crowd of nearly 100. “If Kavanaugh is approved, it will send a message to the country that sexual assault is excusable and will discourage anyone else from speaking out as well.”

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor, alleged that when she and Kavanaugh were high school students in 1982 — she was 15, he was 17 — he held her down on a bed and attempted to rip off her clothes, while muffling her screams. She feared for her life at the time.

Deborah Ramirez, who attended Yale with Kavanaugh, told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party during the 1983-84 academic year, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away, the magazine reported.

Kavanaugh has denied the accusations made by both women, while his defenders have either dismissed the allegations or downplayed the incidents as being a part of party culture.

“We are here today because being in high school is not an excuse,” Greene told the crowd. “We are all in high school and we understand that consent is necessary, so why didn’t Kavanaugh?”

Greene called the two women who have come forward “modern-day heroes,” and students cheered and clapped in support. She said the issue of sexual assault goes “beyond party politics,” and that “it is essential to remember that this is not a white women’s issue. We need to include people of all genders, all sexualities, people of color, and all abilities,” Greene said. “This movement is for everyone.”

The walkout at Northampton High School was part of the National #BelieveSurvivors event that activist groups across the country — such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and Women’s March — organized at 1 p.m. to stand up for survivors of abuse and violence.

“We are very proud of our students,” NHS principal Bryan Lombardi said at the event. “They are politically active, they are aware of things going on in the country.”

Lombardi said that students in the high school are dealing with the same issues as Kavanaugh did 30 years ago in terms of parties and consent, and that “they have a lot to say about this so we are supporting that opportunity for them to weigh in.”

There are guidance counselors, adjustment counselors, administrators, and teachers at the high school, Lombardi said, who are all trained to be cognizant and aware of student safety needs.

Joe Brooks-Kahn, a NHS freshman, said, “There’s been a lot of sexual assault allegations, and it needs to be brought to light.”

He said he’s hoping that even though a walkout by high school students might not “affect change directly,” it could still help “in the big picture” if there is a lot of participation across the country.

Event organizer and senior at NHS, Cherilyn Strader, spoke about a recent effort to “reclaim” a girls’ bathroom after a 22-year-old janitor admitted to photographing young women while naked.

A high school group called the Feminist Collective responded by putting Post-it notes scrawled with positive messages on the walls of the girls’ bathroom to make it a “safe place for everyone,” according to group member Kamini Waldman, a NHS freshman.

“Walking in, you were able to feel empowered and feel good in this space when it doesn’t always feel like a welcoming place,” Strader said. “In that moment, it felt like there were a bunch of girls standing behind your back.”

Warren weighs in

“I am proud of the students at Northampton High and across the country who are raising their voices to support sexual assault survivors, leading the changes for common sense gun reforms, and making sure our democracy works for all of us,” U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a statement to the Gazette.

Warren has stated that she supports a full investigation of the allegations brought forth by Ford and Ramirez and called on Republicans to not rush the confirmation process.

“Women like Christine Blasey Ford are brave, deserve to be heard, and treated with respect,” Warren said.

Lindsay Sabadosa, the Democratic nominee for the 1st Hampshire District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, attended the event and said she is “grateful” that NHS students held the walkout and expressed her own “solidarity” with those who participated.

Speaking about Ford and Ramirez, Sabadosa said it takes “tremendous courage and strength” to come forward to talk about sexual assault.

“They sacrifice a lot to do it. They risk their personal safety and their family’s safety,” Sabadosa said. “No one comes forward lightly.”

Jo Comerford, the Democratic nominee for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District Senate seat, commended NHS students for “leading the way as they did on guns,” and thanked students for organizing the event.

“It is the highest appointment anyone can get, a lifetime in the most powerful court in the land,” Comerford said in a phone interview about Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. “It is unconscionable that Republicans would think that someone accused of attempted rape should go forward.”

She said that NHS students and others who participated in the walkouts across the country are sending a message to the Senate Judiciary Committee and members of Congress that the allegations against Kavanaugh are to be believed.

“We need to have a thorough understanding and investigate these allegations because these women are coming forward at great personal risk,” Comerford said.

Setting an example

NHS senior and member of NHS Democrats, Ben Moss-Horwitz, said that planning for the event began on Sunday afternoon around 1 p.m. and that students spent Monday morning spreading the word in the hallways of the high school.

Numerous groups cosponsored the event, including the Northampton High School Students Against Sexual Harassment, the Democrats Club, the Feminist Collective, the Environmental Club, the Musical Theatre Club, and Pioneer Valley Students for Gun Control, according to a statement by student organizers.

“It is really important because I am a 17-year-old white guy, and one of the allegations made was when Brett Kavanaugh was a 17-year-old white guy,” Moss-Horwitz said. But age isn’t an excuse, he added: “People have used that a lot as a way of justifying … I am giving all the support I can give to set the example for my peers that this is going to be how the future 17-year-olds are going to act.”

On Thursday Sept. 27, the same day that Ford is scheduled to testify on her allegations before the Senate Judiciary Committee, there is an event scheduled for 5:15 p.m. in front of City Hall: “Solidarity Speak Out on Sexual Assault,” hosted by the Pioneer Valley Women’s March.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com