Oswego School District 308 Board of Education members expressed surprise last week at the results of a survey of the district’s high school students that found widespread concern over sexual harassment among their peers.
In addition to sexual harassment, other concerns identified by large numbers of Oswego East and Oswego High School students in the survey included the amount of homework, clarity on student discipline and teacher support of student mental health.
Board of Education Student Ambassadors Aanya Roy, a junior at Oswego East High School, and Colton Sannito, a senior at Oswego High School presented the survey results to the board during a meeting Nov. 15 along with Jadon Waller, the district’s director of diversity, equity, inclusion and family engagement.
A total of 2,593 students at the two high schools completed the survey in October. Students were given the opportunity to identify themselves by race/ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.
Black/White students, Chicano, Hispanic and female students - a total of 527 students - listed sexual harassment as their top concern in the survey, while 798 students listed it as their second highest priority. A total of 42% percent of female students who participated in the survey listed it as their “most important issue.”
“The fact that so many students felt concerned about their physical safety was an issue our committee wanted to address directly,” Roy said.
Roy told the board that the district’s student advisory committee now plans to use the survey results to work on targeting the root causes of the student concerns.
Board Vice President LaTonya Simelton praised Sannito, Roy, Waller and the committee for their work on the survey.
“This is a lot of work, but at the end of the day for the opportunity for you to come to us with not just anecdotal information, but data that will help inform us as to how we improve the culture and the climate of our district,” Simelton said, adding that she was looking forward to examining further research.
Board President Donna Marino described the survey results as “heavy” and asked Waller, Sannito and Roy whether they were surprised with what they found or if had confirmed what they had heard and seen previously at the two schools.
Waller called the number of students who listed sexual harassment as their first or second greatest concern daunting, adding that the results led the committee into discussions about where and how those incidents were occurring.
“Is it on social media, is it in the school?” Waller asked.
Sannito said that the number of students concerned over sexual harassment was alarming, while Roy called it shocking.
“That was such a shocking statistic to see,” Roy told the board, adding that it was a universal feeling in the committee. We saw the statistic and we realized how large of an issue this was going to be, and we realized the steps we were going to have to take to address that.”
Survey responses were categorized into four areas of concern: Academic Focus, School Structure, Social Climate, and Student-to-Student Interactions.
In the area of academic focus, the top concern among students was the amount of homework they received; in School Structure, students were concerned with “Clarity on how administration handles discipline as it relates to race, gender, identity, and sexual harassment”; in the category of Social Climate, the top concern was “Teacher’s role in supporting students’ mental capacity (feeling overwhelmed with school and personal responsibilities)”; while the top concern in Student to Student Interaction was sexual harassment.
Other concerns among students include racial/identity discrimination, LGBTQIA+ and Black Indigenous Person of Color (BIPOC) representation in school culture and curriculum, off-campus lunch and teacher response to the mental health concerns of students.
Board member Eugene Gatewood said that he was proud of the number of students who responded to the survey, about half of the student bodies of both high schools.
“That sample size is incredible and it cannot be ignored,” he told the board.
“It also speaks volumes to the results that we have,” Gatewood said, adding that he was surprised and excited by the results.
“It becomes now our responsibility to do something, given the results...to do something right now.”