CVHS discusses its culture around sex: “A conversation for everybody”

Editor’s note: This is the follow-up article to Trojans in Search of Condoms, in which CVHS students, staff, and administration shared their thoughts on the lack of safe-sex birth control products available on-campus to students.

With the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court case which recognized the constitutional right to an abortion, many Americans believe their sexual and reproductive health rights are on the line.

Locally, CVHS’s role in providing on-campus sexual and reproductive health services, which would include the distribution of contracepitves such as condoms, is in discussion. 

Many students like Bibi Lazares, a junior and member of the Women of Color for Change Club (WOCC),  believe there is still more to be done regarding the way the CVHS community discusses sexual health.

“For me as a student, I have experienced being slut shamed before, many many times, whether that be in person, virtually, behind my back from people I trusted, from people I haven’t trusted,” she described. “To be hearing those things about yourself and to be hearing those conversations about you that are so incredibly intimate and that you trust other people can be so incredibly heartbreaking.” These people, she noted, are other CVHS students.

Lazares believes this is all part of a larger culture of shame surrounding sex.

“I think it’s really important that we destigmatize sex especally because it’s natural and it’s a choice that people make and people should not be demonized for their choices, have to fear harrasment, and have to be in an uncomfortable environment at school because of their sexual history,” she said. 

CVHS Principal Blaine Torpey provided his thoughts. “I think it is important to provide students as many resources as possible regarding health care, wellness, and sexual health. I also think it is important that we be sensitive to the many different values our community members hold regarding sexual activity,” he said. 

Administration has made efforts in normalizing the discussion around sexual health. During a February Trojan Time social-emotional learning program, a PowerPoint was presented to students regarding consent. This PowerPoint included a three-minute YouTube video titled “Tea Consent” from 2015 which compared consent around sex to asking someone if they would like to drink a cup of tea.

In a poll with more than 100 responses from CVHS students, 69.2 percent of the students said it was helpful and 30.8 percent of the students said it was not.

Responses for those who thought it was helpful ranged from “basic,” “simple,” “entertaining,” to “it’s not good but it’s better than nothing.”

Those who didn’t believe the video was helpful said that it was “childish,” “vague,” “gross oversimplification,” to “a last ditch attempt to ‘please’ the people that are rightfully upset.”

“I think our health class does a pretty good job at what they do in teaching consent, but I think to simplify consent to the matter of tea and can be a slap in the face to victims, ” Lazares responded. “And I know that it’s a great analogy and it’s informative, but let’s call it what it is. Let’s call it sexual assault, let’s call it sexual battery, let’s call it harassment, let’s call it rape.” 

“I think avoiding that only promotes that culture,” she continued. “We have a lot of toxic rape culture within our school programs—for some more than others—but I think that it’s really important that our teachers take that direction on being able to call out their students when they see something that is predatory behavior.”

“Rape culture” as defined by Oxford Languages is “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” 

According to a survey of more than 100 responses asking students if they believed there was a rape culture present at CVHS, responses were spilt, with 51.4 percent saying there was and 48.6 percent saying that there wasn’t.

“There is definitely a rape culture present at CVHS,” said junior Sara Cordiano. “It’s something that comes across me every day, often in different forms and intensities. I hear it, whether it is a big discussion on social media or in person, or in the form of a sly remark. The sly remarks would include things such as victim blaming and accusing the victim rather than questioning the rapist themself. Things also along the lines of ‘she was probably asking for it.’ Sometimes these instances are not verbal, but I can see it in the way people react and how it’s handled amongst those of authority.”

Sophomore Marissa Meza added to the conversation. “Three of my friends have gotten raped by some of the guys at this school and it happens off campus but you should still do some thing if a report comes up,” she said.

Cordiano shared her ideas on what should be done in the future. “I think when consent is discussed moving forward we need to expand on understanding the importance of respecting one another’s bodies and boundaries,” she added. “[We need] proper communication and preparation to form these discussions…I think that more things such as student-led educational activities, guest speakers, more support, or just awareness to victims in general can contribute greatly,” Cordiano added. “We need more realistic and relevant education to create a change.”

Lazares also recognized how men always get left out of these conversations.

“I think a lot of people forget about the men in these conversations too because it definitely does happen,”  she said. “I’ve had a lot of men come to me and tell me things that are assault and that are harrasment and that are rape but they don’t identify it as that because of the stigma around it. And so I think it’s important that we recognize this as a conversation for everybody. Especially women but especially men too! I don’t think anybody should be left out and I’m a huge advocate for that. I’m a huge advocate for all victims of assault.” 

Torpey responded in regards to how consent and sexual harm is handled at CVHS. “As with each of our Trojan Time topics, we are always developing and deepening the programming. It is an ongoing project. In relation to the topic of consent, CVUSD has brought in a consultancy group, Title IX Consult, to assist us in auditing our work in providing education to students regarding sexual harassment and by extension sexual assault.”

According to the California Department of Education, “[Title IX] protects [students and employees] against discrimination based on sex (including sexual harassment). In addition, Title IX protects transgender students and students who do not conform to gender stereotypes. State law also prohibits discrimination based on gender (sex), gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”

In fact, Lazares who co-organized the WOCC protest for victims of sexual assault in October 2021, is also currently meeting with Title IX consultants as the WOCC continue their campaign towards a “zero-tolerance” policy, which would center the needs of sexual assault survivors so that they feel safe on campus.

“There are strict procedures and steps required under federal and state law that we must follow when it comes to any allegations of sexual misconduct,” said Torpey in the October article, “Students Demand Administration to take Sexual Assault Seriously,” which was about this student-led protest. 

Torpey expanded on what those procedures and steps are. “There are both federal Title IX laws covering sexual harassement (of which sexual assault is a component) and state laws covering sexual harassment including California Education Code which sets the framework for disciplinary responses to school-based infractions,” he said. 

“In general if there are allegations of sexual harassment, we are required to follow the investigation process outlined by federal law under Title IX. This investigation process is multi-step and can be lengthy as a result of due process protections for complainants and respondents. Whether or not an infraction is determined to violate federal law under Title IX must be determined first before evaluating whether the infraction has violated California law. There are slightly different definitions for key components of sexual harassment between state and federal statutes such as consent, for example. As a result, an infraction could violate federal law under Title IX, the reverse of this, or both.”

Marian Meadows, the district’s behavioral health coordinator who works at the CVHS Wellness Center, responded. “Student voice is the most powerful way to bring forward needs that are not being fulfilled,” she said.“The Wellness Center supports students in their exploration of this need and will continue to help amplify student voices in our community. We want our students to be physically and emotionally safe and healthy, and we are in support of any efforts towards those goals.”

Overall, CVHS’ role in making sexual health education and resources accessible to students is evolving. Lazares sees how in addition to accessible contraceptives, future programming that centers student voices  is imperative to keep this discussion alive.

“It’s important that we are having multiple open and honest conversations so it’s not just one event that we go to and we forget about, but that it’s a constant conversation and constant topic that’s being brought up,” Lazares said. “I don’t think anybody should be left out of this conversation and I’m a huge advocate for that.”