by Maddie Dewhirst
On Sun., Jul. 26, upwards of 350 people gathered on the Los Gatos High School track to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
Ten current and former LGHS students from the recently formed organization From Survivors, For Survivors, coordinated the event. Organizers and volunteers arrived as early as 6:45 AM to mark spots six feet apart on the track. The group emphasized social distancing on social media prior to the event, in addition to requiring all attendees to wear masks; they strictly enforced both precautions throughout the rally. Entry to the event began at 9:15 AM and the crowd, comprised of students, teachers, and community members, dressed up in shades of pinks, blacks, and whites to show their solidarity with the movement.
The precipitating event that led to the rally was a 15-year-old’s Instagram post detailing her assault. Her post inspired upwards of one hundred students and alumni to come forward with their own experiences of sexual assault and harassement. A student created the Instagram account @metoolghs less than two weeks after the 15-year-old first posted, and the account has since become a platform for students to anonymously tell their stories in addition to providing informational content.
When asked about what she hoped the event would accomplish, the 15-year-old stated: “I hope for better education around consent and sexual assault. I hope that people no longer feel the need to be silent, and I just hope for a change in the culture at Los Gatos.” Her speech detailed what happened during the assault and what she has been forced to endure in its aftermath. While calling out the inequities in how survivors and rapists are treated by the school, she also spoke to the strength of survivors, declaring, “I could let this ruin me, and I could let him continue to take my power like he did on the night of February 8, but I won’t. I am taking back the power. We are taking back the power. I am turning what happened to me into something that our world and community needs: We need change.” After concluding her speech, she received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Other organizers echoed her sentiment. Rising LGHS senior Donya Behroozi remarked that she “wanted to help create something that causes or brings about some awareness in this community,” adding that she is “really hoping to educate. We have some really great speakers. I’m hoping to get all this community outreach to bring about more change in the future.”
LGHS alumna Casey Kamali spoke about the importance of creating a space for survivors, saying, “I have experienced a lot of sexual harassment and a lot of, frankly, rape culture in this community and on this campus, and I just think it’s really important that we as a community come together to support survivors and show them that we’re here for them, we believe them, and we support them.”
The event itself began slightly after 10 AM, featuring a wide variety of speakers and performances. Sheila Pott, the mother of Audrie Pott – a 15-year-old student at Saratoga who took her own life in 2012 after being raped and cyberbullied – remarked in her speech: “When one person in a group setting starts down the path, the wrong path, can we hold ourselves accountable to intervene at that critical moment? I hope so.”
Pablo Cueto, a Spanish teacher at LGHS, delivered a speech focused on the importance of speaking up for others. Talking without any written notes, Cueto detailed his own experience at a party in high school where he witnessed a person take an intoxicated girl into a room and later learned she was raped. He specifically implored men to be allies, stating, “if you see something, speak up,” and urged people not to worry about the social pressure of going against their friends.
The rally also featured musical performances by several current and former LGHS students. Devin Schreiner, who graduated in 2019, sang “Rise Up” by Andra Day while playing the guitar. A group of four performed “Give Me Love” by Ed Sheeran. Among them was Eesha Gadhia, a graduate from the class of 2019.
After the show, Gadhia commented: “I would have come here today even if I weren’t performing because it’s something that we don’t talk about and we really ought to.” Gadhia then explained that, “We are on the cusp of something big, especially in this town. With our protests for BLM and now this, and as someone who has spoken to the school board multiple times and Dr. Grove, and seeing firsthand their lack of consideration for our quality of life down here as students, this is something that I’m actually looking to… make a big deal [about] because we can definitely get some changes done, and hopefully improve the quality of life for everyone here, not just certain people.”
In the final speech of the rally, the From Survivors, For Survivors group outlined their demands. Among their requests is greater transparency when it comes to how Title IX investigations are conducted. They also demand that the administration “include sexual harassment and sexual violence as direct violations of the Athletic Code of Conduct. Any student found guilty of sexual harassment should be suspended from a minimum of three sporting events, banned from a minimum of two school dances, and removed from any ongoing school play or musical. Any student found guilty of sexual assault should be automatically banned from any future participation in school sports, dances, spirit rallies, plays, concerts, and their senior graduation ceremony.” A video of the entire event can be viewed on the From Survivors, For Survivors Instagram account (@fromsurvivorsforsurvivors).
Several members of the administration also attended the rally. In a video interview with El Gato News, Interim Principal Paul Robinson stated: “We’ve got to make sure that we are stopping things that are making anyone feel uncomfortable and disenfranchised at our school. And the more we do that within our school, and within the community we live in, and the society, and the nation that we live in, and the world we live in, the better things are going to be. But these are centuries’ old problems… I don’t necessarily believe that there is a rape culture at Los Gatos High School. I think that there is a problem in our society, our worldwide society, that we need to address that does impede us here at our school from time to time and impact our school here from time to time that we need to make sure that we open our eyes to, and that’s exactly what we’re hoping to do.”