Hundreds of students gather outside the main entrance at OPRF during a walk out on Friday afternoon. | Amaris E. Rodriguez

Hundreds of students braced the cold weather as they led a walkout on Friday afternoon to protest an alleged permissible culture of sexual harassment that roams the halls of Oak Park and River Forest’s High School. 

In an email sent to OPRF families, Assistant Superintendent and Principal Lynda Parker said they had been informed about a planned walkout occurring during seventh and eighth period. Parker addressed in the email that the protest was allegedly in response to an “inappropriate social media post” related to a presentation the school had on Wednesday during an in-school field trip for seniors called “Set The Expectation.” According to their website, “Set The Expectation,” is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending sexual and interpersonal violence. 

During the presentation on Wednesday, Brenda Tracy, founder of “Set The Expectation,” shared her story as a survivor of sexual assault with students and dove into a deep discussion which included a Q & A portion. 

“She addressed a group chat where nudes have been shared by boys and she expressed how completely inappropriate that was,” said senior Ingrid Vigsnes. “She didn’t shy away from discussing that, she didn’t cover it up and she didn’t sugarcoat it.” 

The presentation by Tracy allegedly triggered the “inappropriate social media post” on an OPRF barstool page, which while not affiliated with the high school, is allegedly well-known amongst students.

Student Taylor Montes-Williams leads a student walk out at OPRF following inappropriate social media post, which students say showcased a toxic culture at the high school that permits sexual harassment. | Amaris E. Rodriguez

Taylor Montes-Williams, who took part in organizing the walkout along with other members of SAFE, Students Advocating for Equity, said the post caused an uproar amongst students who saw it. 

“People need to speak now,” Montes-Williams said. “Especially now that I’m seeing all the pain people are going through and how many stories … this went up all the way to the end of the school day because so many people had things to say. Enough is enough.” 

Parker said those students who wished to participate in the protest would be allowed to. 

“If students walk out, they will be allowed to exit peacefully,” her email to families read. “Our goal is not to stop students from walking out. They have a right to peacefully protest. We will have campus safety staff and administrators monitoring hallways to ensure an orderly exit.” 

During the walkout, the students opened the megaphone to those who wished to speak to the crowd of students gathered around the main Scoville Avenue entrance of the high school. 

Many students took the opportunity to address the allegedly toxic culture surrounding situations dealing with sexual harassment or sexual assault at the school. 

“If this is the first time you’ve heard of this, I just want to say, you’re too late,” said a student. “This has been happening. It is all around you.” 

Video by Amaris E. Rodriguez

“This is not a new issue to OPRF, this is something that happens in the hallways every single day, it happens in the locker rooms every single day, this is also something that happens in middle school and elementary schools” said another student, adding that the issue affects all students, not just women. 

Students vocalized their frustration towards administration for not taking a stronger stance on sexual assault and harassment reports.

“Administration does not care, they say they care and then they don’t.” said junior Elliott Sparks, calling for students to get mad about the alleged lack of accountability and discipline those perpetrators have received from the school. 

The stories told were not surprising to many students who had joined the walk out. 

“It is almost hard to recall specific incidents because it happens so much,” Montes-Williams said. 

Josie Tikkanen, a senior, said she took to the walkout in solidarity with other victims of sexual assault. 

“I think the culture around it in our school is [explicit] up,” Tikkanen said, adding that during the presentation made by Tracy, many male students were laughing and making inappropriate jokes. “It is so harmful; everybody knows we need a change.” 

While Tikkanen said she did feel support from her teachers to join the protest if that was something she wished to do, she added that she believes faculty feels limited in how they can approach those types of situations. 

“I think they absolutely know about it, but I think they feel that they are limited when they are not,” Tikkanen said. “I think there are things they can do to better support survivors and to better punish the predators in the school, but I just think they haven’t done enough about it. They believe they are limited when they are not.” 

“As a woman I deal with this every day,” Vigsnes said. “I think it is important that these people that are doing these things, that are sexually assaulting people are held accountable and that they are uncomfortable, and I hope that this aims to do that.” 

In response to the walk out, Parker sent out a follow-up email to OPRF families after the school day, informing them that the message of the protest was heard by the administration.

“I want to be very clear that as a school community, we hear and understand the reasons behind the rally and walkout,” read the email from Parker. “Both sexual violence and making light about it are reprehensible and unacceptable. I and other administrators will be working with students to discuss how we can work together to increase the awareness of sexual and interpersonal violence and how to prevent it. All students deserve a safe, affirmative learning environment, and we are committed to ensuring that for everyone in our school community.”

OPRF students seem to be determined to hold administration to those promises.

“I hope that the school knows that if changes aren’t made, we will come back and we will do the same thing,” Montes-Williams said. “And it won’t be seventh and eighth period, we will start during first [period] and go the rest of the day.” 

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