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Standing up to sexual harassment

Hannah Coyle standing with other #MeToo supporters and survivors. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 2
Red Wing High School students have pledged to show their support and speak up for victims of sexual harassment. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

When Hannah Coyle had an uncomfortable situation happen last year, she wasn't sure it was "bad enough" to report. But the widespread #MeToo movement, plus family and friends, helped her see the situation for what it was: sexual harassment.

"I have a good support network and they were able to help me see it doesn't matter how bad it was because it made me uncomfortable," Coyle said. "That it needed to be handled. That was probably the hardest part."

Coyle has since gone through a sexual harassment investigation with the school and the administration found that her situation couldn't be classified as sexual harassment under the district policy.

"I think this school has a lot of work to do when it comes to the way they handle sexual harassment. There's a lot of opportunity for learning through my case, I think," Coyle said.

Uneasy with the administration's final decision, Coyle worried that others could see this inaction as a reason to keep quiet.

Empowering others

"At Red Wing High School we are always striving to improve our learning and working environment for students and staff alike," Principal Todd Herber said. "Teaching about and discussing topics, like sexual harassment and bullying, are necessary so we can inform students and staff of their rights and responsibilities in this regard and the impact this kind of behavior can have on individuals and on school climate."

To help promote education and change, Coyle applied for and received a $500 grant from the Red Wing chapter of the American Association of University Women. This grant was enough to cover the printing cost of 100 T-shirts that say "#MeToo. We stand with you" which Coyle distributed to classmates April 5.

"I think we ran out of T-shirts within 10 minutes but they were all free for the 100 students that got them," Coyle said.

About 15 percent of the school's population signed a pledge circulated by Coyle stating that they would speak up if they witnessed sexual harassment and stand with victims of sexual harassment and assault, an issue currently in the public eye thanks to the global #MeToo movement.

"There might not be that much sexual assault at Red Wing High School, but I think there is a lot of sexual harassment that goes unnoticed," Coyle said. "And to kind of use something already well-known to broaden that awareness and understanding kind of made it a good connecting point."

Visibility matters

"I am proud of the hard work Hannah Coyle, in consultation with a staff adviser, has put forth to create a thoughtful and informative event to educate our students and staff," Herber said. "While we do cover these policies from our handbook at the start of the school year, it is good to revisit them often as we strive to build a positive climate in our school for all."

Students wore their #MeToo T-shirts to class Friday, April 6, to show solidarity with victims and demonstrate to peers and the administration that they intend to stand up to perpetrators of sexual harassment.

"This particular effort is student-led, but we share a common vision: a learning and working environment that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination," said Karsten Anderson, superintendent of Red Wing Public Schools. "I am pleased that students in Red Wing are leading this work. Our students are not only our greatest resource but also our greatest chance for meaningful change."

"After seeing all the students that came to get T-shirts ... and the responses I've gotten from the entire community and from students from other schools, I feel supported," Coyle said. "And the responses, even just conversations that I've had with other students, and seeing all of them with their T-shirts was pretty cool."