'Respect' is message at OPRF - 800 T-shirts tell the story

Women on high school staff send message with campaign


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

A conversation between a female student and her school counselor inspired female staff at OPRF to create 800 T-shirts with the word "RESPECT" on them, in response to a recent incident of a male student ranking girls on their looks and purported sexual experience in an inappropriate list.

The staff members, along with a retired school counselor, last week created 800 T-shirts which many adults and students wore last Friday. They were distributed mid-week and sold out by Thursday. The black-colored shirts with white lettering feature a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The word "Respect" is on the front, followed by the quote on the back: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Principal Nathaniel Rouse used the quote in his letter to the school following the Jan. 14 incident involving the list. The male student who created the list on Facebook and in printed copies was not allowed back in school after the incident and could face expulsion.

The idea for the shirts came from a conversation between school counselor Heidi Lynch, and one of her students. The girl met with Lynch shortly after the incident and was troubled not only by the list itself, which had derogatory language about the 50 girls listed, but also by the response of some students in support of it.

"She was disturbed that it was other students who participated in distributing it and applauding it," said Lynch, who also taught for 14 years at OPRF.

Lynch spoke with other female staff about doing something visually to empower students against the list to speak out. Lynch sent out an e-mail to faculty to gage their support and got an overwhelming response in favor.

But Lynch says the larger point is that this has sparked a conversation around the school about what is and is not acceptable behavior. Lynch said the female student she spoke with felt like a "lone voice" of opposition, though there were likely more who felt the same.

"There were great kids here who were appalled at this [list] and needed a signal from the adults to be able to speak out," Lynch said. "We thought that we could come up with a visual way to empower kids to say this is wrong; this is not who we are. We are a community that's about respect and tolerance."

Since the shirts have been distributed, Lynch said the female student came to her office last Friday, overwhelmed and pleased by the positive response from students and adults in the building.

Along with the 800 staff and students sporting the shirts on Friday, others were encouraged to wear something black and white in support. Three hundred more shirts have been ordered and are selling this week during lunch period. Lynch said they purchased the shirts from a company for $5 each and sold them for the same amount — the idea, she added, was not to make a profit but to send a message

The original 800 shirts arrived last Wednesday and were distributed to staff, student clubs and school teams. Lynch described the mood around the school last Friday as "visceral," as people proudly wore their shirts but also talked about what the girls on the list, and entire school, has gone through.

"There's a feeling that we're moving forward and talking about who we are at a core level," Lynch said.

The T-shirt campaign has been accepted building wide. Amy Hill, OPRF's director of assessment and research, and one of the staff members Lynch spoke to, said the shirts were meant to accomplish two things — support the girls who were targeted on the list, and "to make a statement about who we believe we are as a school community. This started as a small idea and spread as a school-wide effort by the adults."

Many students also got involved.

The boys' varsity basketball team wore the shirts over their warm-ups during shoot-around before Friday's home game against Downers Grove North. OPRF's drill and cheer squad also sported them during the half time show.

Lynch said other students have been asking about the shirts and how to get them. The list came up briefly at last Thursday's school board meeting during the principal's report. Rouse said teachers spent some time with their students that day talking about respecting each other and would continue those conversations moving forward.

In his recent letter on the school's website, he said the school this week would start mapping out a larger plan to address respect and acceptable-behavior issues in the building.

Rouse wrote: "We have continued to provide what we hope is meaningful support and information to the students and families directly impacted by the list, while honoring privacy. ... In the meantime, we are providing a few quick resources that our counselors and resource managers have found to be helpful in discussing with teens a multitude of issues concerning demeaning, hateful and stereotyping behavior and language of all kinds."

Reader Comments

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Snoop Dogg from Blizzard, IL  

Posted: February 1st, 2011 6:44 PM

A real snow job. Party on Garth. Great empathy for all the children. Everybody wins!!!

Expel the misogynist from Down with Men  

Posted: January 31st, 2011 10:08 PM

Great Job!!! Hurray!!! I hope he gets his thing removed!

OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: January 31st, 2011 6:50 PM

A Wonderful Success!! This had a great touch, from Ms. Lynch - all the way to the Principal. Pain is very hard to take, and yes - it hits close to home. This is a GREAT life learning experience - and RESPECT is a great Theme. The quote from Dr. King is even better. Thanks OPRF HS for taking the RIGHT approach for this painful experience for many GREAT girls. It was great for so many to speak out - that this will not be tolerated, and so many will speak up.

More Qualified to Speak  

Posted: January 31st, 2011 6:42 PM

@listparent None of the things you mentioned are ok. i never said they were. im not a societal problem, im a societal wakeup call. as a list parent u have every right and reason to be upset. but its u and other uninformed oakparkers who r making this the big deal it is. the student is gone; everyone at school knows it was stupid. its over. theres no reason to turn this into some widespread movement. and when did i ever promote the things u mentioned? no offense but ur actually being ridiculous.

More Qualified to Speak  

Posted: January 31st, 2011 6:33 PM

@formerOPer odds are u'll never see this, but obviously i am more qualified to speak than u are bc i know the kid personally and read the list. ur a former OPer, not a current one. and tshirts were given out for free to all 50 girls, possibly all the teachers (i doubt they paid for them), and members of various activities (the whole track team got them free). I am opposed to the list. it was bad. but the fact that he wrote the list doesn't take away from the fact that hes an otherwise good guy.

Another List Parent  

Posted: January 29th, 2011 5:54 PM

This is a societal issue. Is sexual harassment okay? Is religious, ethnic, and racial bullying okay? It seems to me that this country needs an education on how we treat each other as human beings and what it truly means to be civil to one and other. It's time to take a stand and make a change. Make your choice: walk away and ignore it, cheer the bullies on, or make a change for the future...it's your choice but just be prepared for the consequences.

List Parent  

Posted: January 29th, 2011 3:42 PM

As a parent of one of the young women targeted, I am sad to see some of the posts here. In a school and community that is supposed to be built on fairness, respect and social justice, we see that it is sadly not the case. I feel empathy for the young woman that wanted to put it behind her, but we tried that the first time this happened two years ago and the perpetrator and his minions would not let it be. The attitudes of students like "more qualified" are the problem that must be solved.


Posted: January 29th, 2011 7:28 AM

Kudos to the students who posted on here. They are right. The principal is terrible. Just a quota baby. He has butchered this just like everything else he has had to handle at OP.

Ben Harros  

Posted: January 29th, 2011 6:48 AM

Very few t-shirts were sold. My neighbor's kid plays soccer and his coach was giving them out to soccer players in the morning. Its a FAD...the cool thing this week. Next week will have t-shirts that say LOVE for valentines day. If we sell enough t-shirts maybe teachers in D97 would not have to take a pay freeze

former OPer  

Posted: January 29th, 2011 2:52 AM

@more qualified, grow up young man. to say this was "a good kid" that you lost is really just making you look like you have no qualifications to speak. tax dollars? read again it says bought for $5 each and sold for the same @ Student, i am very sorry that you had to go through this at first and now again having it brought up. but this issue has made national news they have to do more. shame on him for putting any girl through this. be mad at him not mr. rouse.

Student--Thanks Mr. Rouse from River Forest  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 9:16 PM

I just want to say thanks to the principal and teachers who made this such a big deal. This occured over 2 weeks ago and during finals week. It was done and over with, people had forgotten about it and moved on; but our school had to bring the issue up again. Thanks for making me relive the day again mr. rouse. Everyone looked at me, asked me what number was i again, people were happy to get a "Free" t-shirt. You empowered mr. rouse and now we start all over again. my dad was right about u

More Qualified to Speak  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 7:22 PM

First: I hope no tax dollars were spent on this little project. I am an OPRF student; a well-behaved, Deans' list OPRF student. And while i don't condone that type of behavior, this whole issue being blown out of proportion. the student who made the list is well liked (even by many of the girls on the list) and this whole litte expulsion celebration is feces, honestly. We lost a good kid. Yes, he made a bad decision (multiple times) but if u met him ud like him. OPRF's response is appalling.

Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 6:49 PM

Respect is the name of the game and you've got to hand it to these young women, they responded to insult with creativity. They make OPRF culture proud.

j from river forest  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 4:24 PM

MC, I can't imagine that you could even suggest that these girls brought this upon themselves by the way they dress. Perhaps it could have been the color and style of their hair? Maybe the way they painted their nails, natural versus red? Flip flops or Ugg boots? Use your head. The behavior that brought this about is systemic at this and many other schools. This issue can and will bring about a change in attitude about the judgement of others. It already has.

Sister Bertrille from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2011 3:20 PM

Personally, I don't believe that MC is implying, nor do I believe that in any way the girls brought this on themselves. However, I think it fair to bring about a larger question for OPRF, that being putting in place a dress code/uniform for boys and girls. I know there will be howls about stifling their individuality and creativity, but the reality is schools employing dress codes have better behaved students. It's not the only factor obviously, but it does help...Discuss....

B from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 7:53 PM

MC - So you are saying that the girls brought this on themselves?

MC from Oak Park  

Posted: January 27th, 2011 6:58 PM

Perhaps something to address how the girls dress themselves could be part of this respect initiative.

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