By Terry Dean
A male student at Oak Park and River Forest High School, believed to have created a list ranking girls on their physical appearance and sexual experience, has been identified and will face "appropriate consequences" that could include expulsion. According to a source close to the school, this is not the first such incident involving this particular student.
The list, discovered by school officials last Friday, was circulated in printed copies around the building by the student and on Facebook. OPRF will not publicly identify the student, only saying that he is a male. The list ranked 50 female students, mostly juniors, on how they look and on alleged sexual experience. A parent of one of the girls filed a complaint with Oak Park police on Monday. Cmdr. LaDon Reynolds of the Investigations Division said police are still investigating the matter but a disorderly conduct report has been completed. Reynolds said police were made aware of the list last Friday. He stressed that this incident was primarily a school matter but the police are working with the school and parents during the investigation.
This is the second time in the last two years that such a list has surfaced at OPRF.
In spring 2009, a male student created a "Class of 2012: Top 45" list of freshman girls. The female students were named and ranked by their appearance, including details about body features, along with other derogatory comments. The student who created it was expelled for a period of time and later allowed to return to school, according to the source who wished to remain anonymous.
Kay Foran, the school's spokesperson, would not confirm if the same male student created both lists. But the source, an OPRF parent but not of any of the girls ranked, said it was the same student. That student has not been allowed back in school after this recent list was discovered by staff last Friday. Foran did say the student would face appropriate consequences per the school's code of conduct. Cyber-bullying, bullying and sexual harassment are Class 3 infractions in the code of conduct. The range of consequences can include expulsion.
Foran said the school takes such infractions, including the creation of the list, "very, very seriously" and called the conduct involved "totally unacceptable" as stated in the code of conduct.
The school did not contact police about the list, Foran said, but OPRF's school resource officers (SROs) — who are also Oak Park police officers — were made aware of this incident.
Reynolds said he reviewed the list and found it reprehensible. He adds that the list constitutes "disorderly conduct," which involves an action knowingly done to alarm or disturb another.
"At the very least, this has occurred," he said, adding that the investigation will help determine appropriate police action in this matter because it involves a juvenile offender.
Student caught on cell phone video
The male student was also recorded on a cell phone video by another student during lunch time last Friday in either the student center or cafeteria, delivering a public tirade about women having too much power. Foran said one of the deans was given a copy of the video. School staff, she said, became aware of the list, found several copies and confiscated them. The student was identified later in the day Friday. The school also contacted the families of the girls named and made counselors available to talk with them.
"The parents of the students affected were contacted, and we continued conversations with them and other students," Foran said. "We're always open to that and are acutely aware of the need to do that for those students."
Foran added that the school is considering having a public forum to involve all students to talk about bullying and respecting one another — the school does have educational programs in place already addressing those issues, she noted.
As to what would motivate this student, or any other, to create such a list and distribute it in print or online, Foran noted that technology can be used for good and bad and that this was a situation involving the latter.
The anonymous source said the male student has some personal issues though that doesn't excuse the behavior. The source also talked with some of the girls on the list and reported that all are angry and embarrassed about being on it.
According to a rumor the parent heard, the offending student was already leaving for another school and his public rant on Friday might have been a final rebellious act. The girls spoken about are so embarrassed they don't even want their parents involved in the situation, the source said.
"It's that painful, that they don't even want their mothers to know about it."
'If you wouldn't say it to their face, don't say it online'
Margo Bristow, OPRF's substance abuse counselor who also deals with cyber-bullying among students, said kids like the male student don't understand the harm they can do to others online.
She alluded to the film The Social Network about the creation of Facebook. The popular site began with a similar list ranking Harvard female students, which was also highlighted in the film. Bristow doesn't think the student was influenced by the film but students like him tend to be more bold online than in person.
"It's happening because kids don't have filters," she said. "They don't see it as bullying because to them it's tongue-in-cheek, and a joke, until someone gets hurt.
"You don't see a physical reaction or visceral feeling when someone is hurt," she added. "I always tell them: 'If you wouldn't say it to their face, don't say it online.'"
Bristow gives presentations on cyber-bullying to freshmen boys and girls who take mandatory social behavior classes at OPRF. One issue that the list highlights is the dehumanization of women and objectifying them. That issue also comes up in Bristow's classroom talks and counseling.
The offending student likely is influenced by certain music that sexually objectifies women, said Bristow, stressing that not all kids have this mindset, and those who do typically get noticed. She said objectification is more a symptom of the culture than the schools.
"It's women being sexualized and not seen as an individual. They're reduced to a body or an action. It's normal for them," she said of those with that mindset.
More education, especially from home, can help address the issue, she said.