#OPINION | Protect Your Students, Not Your Reputations
By Kaira Balcos
Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of pedophilia, predatory behavior and sexual harassment.
“My grade 11 homeroom adviser is a predator and a manipulator: a thread”. This is the introductory tweet to the Twitter thread that started the recent #MCHSDOBETTER movement.
Last June 24, an alumnus of Miriam College High School took to Twitter to speak up about her former teacher and a current faculty member of the school, who allegedly told her fantasies involving his female students, all of whom were minors. The teacher in question was also accused of taking advantage of her naivety and manipulating her into staying silent.
With the discussion of sexual harassment being recently revived due to the #HijaAko movement, the thread quickly gained popularity and other students started sharing their own stories through #MCHSDOBETTER.
The thread accused the teacher of not only speaking with the writer, but to her friends as well, even going as far as asking the girls to video chat with him. It’s disturbing to think that an incident such as this could have happened to any student. However, the movement wouldn’t have started if these cases had been resolved in the first place.
The reason that the hashtag was created was to reach out to the school administration in a call for action. A majority of the tweets posted called out the administration for failing to entertain reports surrounding these issues. It raises a huge concern and leads us to ask, why have we only heard about these issues now?
Students should have the right to safety and protection in their own schools. This problem has gone unresolved for far too long, and these victims have yet to be given the justice they deserve.
The prevalence of this culture in our schools
The rise of the MCHS movement encouraged students and alumni of other schools to follow suit. The first to do so were the students of St. Paul College — Pasig, creating the hashtag #SPCPSQUAREUP. St. Theresa’s College (#STCDOBETTER) and the female students of Marikina Science High School (#MARISCIDOBETTER) followed soon after.
It’s commendable that these girls are building up the strength to share their stories, but the massive amount of those who have done so is quite alarming, and this number is only for those who have gone public. What about the victims unaccounted for, who haven’t voiced out their traumas?
With the uproar, one can easily observe the prevalence of these issues in Catholic all-girls schools and co-educational schools alike. It’s bad enough that this culture even exists, especially within the school community. What’s worse is that rules and regulations already exist for the prevention of such incidents, yet it seems like they are not being strictly implemented.
One student on Twitter stated that the MCHS student handbook even dictates rules about teacher-student interactions such as an “arm’s-length rule” when talking to students, including the possible consequences of the violation of these rules. It’s sad to think that these rules are even necessary, and that they are supposedly broken on a regular basis with no consequences.
It’s very obvious that these set rules aren’t working. So why aren’t the school administrations doing more to ensure their students safety? They shouldn’t be letting the violators off the hook with minimal to no punishment. This begs the question: how exactly do administrators process the reports regarding this sensitive topic?
The school administration: reputation vs. student welfare
There’s an apparent pattern with the way our schools have been handling cases of this nature. From dismissing or covering up student reports to victim blaming, one root of this problem can be traced back to the administrations.
The exposure of the multiple harassment issues also revealed instances in which students were suspended or even expelled due to cases ranging from reporting their experience to the non-consensual release of their sexual photos and videos. With the controversy quickly spreading across social media, the administration of Miriam College High School issued a statement in response to the allegations on June 25.
Coming from the school’s Office of the President, the official statement received backlash from the students, calling out the administration for failing to admit any shortcomings and failing to address the concerns regarding the past cover-ups and negligence of the administration regarding cases of this nature.
“It pained us to know that said stories could be told in what we proudly call a ‘caring institution.’” This line, directly quoted from the statement, shows us how much value the school places on their reputation.
As a well-known Catholic all-girls school in our country, the importance of religious values is deeply integrated into their system. It takes a lot of courage for students who have been educated with these values to speak up about this topic, yet our schools seem to continuously ignore the severity of this issue.
While incidents of this nature already taint their image, they should not focus on burying these concerns. Rather, they should address them properly and transparently. Schools should care less about upholding their reputation and more about the welfare of their students.
The discussion regarding this issue with the administration resembles last year’s #BOTtledUp movement, which was created by the students of Philippine Science High School — Main Campus. The online petition was created in response to the decision of the PSHS Board of Trustees (BOT) to allow six students who had shared sexual photos of their female batchmates to graduate.
Even though the public was outraged with the final decision, being denied transparency of the deliberation process, the board offered no explanation. With PSHS-MC considered to be the Philippines’ top high school, their image was at stake. Even though it was wrong to prioritize this reputation, the board chose to do so anyway.
It’s very concerning to see how school administrations in our country deal with these kinds of issues. Their negligence and seeming lack of concern implies that they think that it’s alright for their female students to be objectified. By failing to appropriately handle these controversies, they are teaching the youth to disregard problems rooted in patriarchal culture.
The harassment needs to end now
This culture has been going on for too long. We cannot continue to accept it and let these issues pass us by. The harassment needs to end now and we need to push for this by beginning to take action.
The Republic Act 7787, otherwise known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, criminalizes all forms of sexual harassment in employment, education, or training environments. Basically speaking, any form of violation of this law may be punishable through monetary means or serving time in imprisonment. In the case of the #MCHSDOBETTER and the schools who have followed suit, the teachers in question may lose their educational licence along with additional court-sanctioned consequences if a formal complaint is filed against them and they have undergone due process according to the law.
One additional voice to the online movement can already contribute a lot. In the case of the #BOTtledUp movement, the decision of the board to let the students in question graduate would never have been overturned if the PSHS-MC students didn’t speak up.
We must stand with the victims, and let them know that we support them, that we don’t blame them for these incidents and their trauma. We need to let those who are still afraid to come out of the shadows and share their stories, know that they will be protected and that we stand with them in seeking justice.
We must educate ourselves and the people around us, especially men on how to respect and properly treat women, instead of teaching women how to please men. We need to put a stop to this toxic culture that our society has been refusing to address.
To the teachers, your duty is to educate your students. As teachers, it is your job to be role models as you are a vital part in the students’ growth and development. You do not have the right to take advantage of your students’ vulnerabilities or use your students as objects for your sexualization.
To the school administrators, it is your duty to develop and foster a positive and safe environment for your students to learn in. Students consider their schools to be their second homes and families, and you should be able to assure them and give them their right to protection and due process regarding cases of this nature.
As the youth, this is our fight. Stand by the victims who have spoken up in this movement and support those who are still finding the strength to share their stories. One spark is all it takes to light a fire. The thread was the spark, and this movement is the fire. What we need to do is add more fuel and work in keeping the flame alive. If we continue in this fight, we’ll be able to burn this culture down to the ground and give the victims the justice that they have long deserved.
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Disclaimer: The research of this article’s writer has been cross-published in a post by Kabanata Philippines.