Rally: CVU Dance Canceled for Allowing Sexual Harassment
With horrifying sexual assault cases jumping to headlines, the eyes of many teenage girls have widened in terror. Navigating an environment that has managed to normalize and even promote sexual harassment is no ideal task. High school girls often find themselves trapped in belittling experiences yet silenced by the fact that these experiences are deemed “normal.”
CVU may be at fault for creating one of these very environments. An annual fall dance, formerly known as “Rally in the Valley,” has long held an infamous reputation for its rampant objectification towards the young girls who attend. One of the first to speak out about this dance was unsurprisingly a teenage girl herself.
Lena Kerest is a CVU senior and a member of the Social Justice Alliance and Student Awareness, Change & Training Committee at CVU. She is also a former attendant of this fall event. “The dance afterward definitely really shocked me and… opened my eyes to a culture at CVU that I thought was extremely problematic,” Lena describes as her ninth-grade experience.
The “Rally in the Valley” event contained two main parts: A performance of group dances, then a school-wide dance that followed. The former was not the problem, as Lena will agree, “A lot of athletes enjoy the camaraderie of making a dance together… so there will be a push to keep that in place.” However, the same cannot be said about the school-wide dance that followed.
“While the event is supposed to promote school spirit and the athletic teams, people utilize [the school-wide dance] for something different which is… a dance where girls go from guy to guy and it’s extremely objectifying cause it’s not a personal relationship and a lot of times it’s not consensual,” Lena describes.
Despite this being the widespread reputation of the dance, for years the legacy of this occasion has lived on. This past year, thanks to the Social Justice Alliance’s growing momentum, the dance following Rally was finally canceled by the administration. Lena defends the school, acknowledging, “There are countless issues that are on the administration’s plate. They are obviously super busy and it’s hard to draw attention to these things when you don’t have a lot of people behind the issue.”
Perhaps the lacking student voice was a symptom of an underlying struggle. When it comes to reporting these problems, teen girls are often met with a wave of dismissal. Teen dances are over-emphasized in the media. Our present society has placed an exaggeration on the American adolescent experience. Hiding behind cliché, coming-of-age teen sagas is a pressure to live high school a certain way. Underclassmen girls often feel they must attend events such as Rally– even if its reputation unsettles them, because “you’re only young once.” Yet, when they describe their experience afterward, their trauma goes dismissed by the fact that they were aware of the risks; thus continues an exhausting cycle.
It’s hard to protect young girls when the danger that they face is disguised as a part of the typical high school experience. Though Rally itself was a horrendous occurrence in Redhawk history, Lena believes that silently clicking “delete” would be just as bad. “We want the administration to speak out about why Rally’s being canceled… It’s not something that we should just be silent about,” she states.
Though the administration as a whole has yet to release a formal statement, administrator Katherine Riley agreed with Lena on the flaws of the dance, acknowledging, “The climate of the Rally dance… was not aligned with helping people feel safe, comfortable, and included.”
High schools everywhere are long overdue for a reevaluation of their environment. When it comes to sexual harassment, hesitation leaves room for devastation. According to one study done by the American Association of University Women, “In the 2010-11 school year, 56% of 7-12th grade girls experienced sexual harassment in school or online from peers.” Statistics prove the severity of this threat, though the only people who seem to be acting on it are young women themselves. But action based solely on self-defense is illogical— a target should not need to be their own bodyguard. If sexual harassment is to be tackled, the root at fault is the culture.
Striving to rebuild this toxic teen environment, Lena does not hesitate to identify problems. “A lot of really bad behavior at CVU is normalized… like how people make comments to each other, do things over social media that are not beneficial to anybody- not safe, but then they just go untalked about, unreported because it’s just what’s normal in CVU culture, [and] in culture in general.”
The need for addressing this harmful culture has never been greater. Recent events at the nearby University of Vermont have further proved this. Students at this university organized a walkout on Monday, May 3rd after numerous injustices occurred involving sexual assault. These injustices are not only disturbing for fellow students of UVM but young women everywhere. For many high school girls, the excitement of college has dwindled into fear. Lena, being a senior herself, exemplifies how this has impacted her personally, “All of this sexual assault stuff coming out of UVM has been weighing on me a lot and so… I don’t feel my best.”
Although high schools still have strides to go till young women feel safe and supported, the cancellation of the Rally in the Valley dance is an inch in the right direction for CVU. Though its existence was long overdue for abolition, reparations are on the horizon. The scars of sexual harassment are not fast-fading; Lena speaks to the pain of all former female attendants when she states, “Rally was just seen as normal but really, it shouldn’t have been. It should not have been normal at all.”