KHS Hosts Leadership Conference

Emma Cripps, Staff Writer

Maine Boys to Men is an organization that works with middle school and high school aged adolescents to “empower students to play a central role in ending gender-based harassment, abuse, and violence.” The group recently held a leadership conference at Kennebunk High School with twenty young women and men. The specific program, known as the “Reduce Sexism and Violence Program,” consisted of a variety of activities and discussions to break down gender stereotypes and understand gender-based issues in modern society. The event was organized by the Feminist club and its advisor, Ms. Carlson, who nominated students, along with other teachers and classmates. The conference was met with overwhelming support from students, which resulted in a waiting list for both genders.

In nominating students, it was requested that teachers keep in mind who they thought would benefit, contribute the most to the discussions, and bring information back to their peer group. Additionally, although the program had a very specific goal, diversity in student opinion and relative experience was important. The activities that took place effectively fostered communication between individuals that might not have otherwise conversed about complex social topics. Included in the group were members of sports teams, very academically focused students, and students with pre-existing passion for social issues. All of these individuals were able to come together to have discussions that required a remarkable amount of trust and open-mindedness. One of the most important things about the conference is that it took place off-campus and it didn’t allow people the comfort of their typical friend circle. Within school settings, most notably when people are around a large group of friends, it can be very easy for an extremely light-hearted and joking atmosphere to develop (especially when there are intense topics at hand). Although this isn’t inherently bad, when people are constantly joking about issues that others feel strongly about, it can be easy for discussion to become shallow and for people to fear participating and sharing genuine ideas. Because people were taken out of their typical comfort zone, they were more likely to share their ideas and be more genuine in what they choose to express.

A prominent topic throughout the two day period was the way gender stereotypes directly and indirectly affect our lives. There are fundamental ways that women are treated differently than men, which manifests in hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine ideals. Frequently these go unnoticed unless people are taught to look for them; however, they are extremely prevalent as a cause of the violent culture that exists, especially between genders. Several topics were also discussed including the atmosphere at KHS, using appropriate language (insults that don’t correlate to specific genders, sexes, or sexual orientations), and the fallacies of the bystander effect. Moreover, the conference presenters taught students about the four different ways that bystanders can safely and effectively intervene. These included direct (actively intervening and confronting the harassment), distraction (drawing attention away from the person being harassed), delegate (getting help from someone with more elevated social power), and delay (checking in with the victim after the incident).

Students who attended this conference are now equipped with the ability to spread awareness. This leadership training will enable participants to intervene and educate within their everyday lives.

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