Taylor Montes in front of Oak Park and River Forest High School on Sunday March 19th, 2023. | Sara Janz

Oak Park and River Forest High School students can find a sanctuary in the group Students Advocating For Equity. SAFE makes it a priority to promote equity and inclusion in the OPRF community especially when it comes to topics such as racism, sexual violence and gender equity. 

Students Advocating For Equity attempts to do exactly that. Their past endeavors have included organizing a March 10 walkout in opposition to how OPRF chooses to handle sexual assault allegations. The school has in the past allegedly avoided punishing male athletes accused of sexual harassment, has put victims in situations where they have to deal with their aggressors, and has reportedly chosen to move the victim out of their classes after a reported allegation instead of the assailant. 

Though the administration as a whole has not shown continuous support for SAFE, Lynda Parker, OPRF’s principal, has been commended for her support of her students expressing their First Amendment rights. At the March 10 protest the principal made an appearance by coming out to inform students, after a faculty member said students had to return to school for 8th period, that they did not have to return to school and they could continue their protest if they chose to.

Following the protests, many SAFE members have reportedly been called in to their deans and reprimanded for exposing the names of alleged offenders. The same male athletes were allegedly sharing a group chat where they took pride in the fact that SAFE members were being punished.  

Though not the largest group at OPRF, SAFE has certainly made headlines with hundreds of students attending the walkout with coverage on news outlets such as CBS2 Chicago.

Sophia Powell, a junior and leader in SAFE, said SAFE’s goal is to increase equity in “college counselors” and the group has future plans for an “anti-racism seminar.” In addition, SAFE plans not only to start future petitions, but wants to create a safe space for survivors so they are not negatively affected by the school’s policies and forced to be around their aggressors as in the past. SAFE intends to list its demands to Supt. Greg Johnson and Parker in a meeting this week.

Taylor Montes, A senior and a leader in organizing the March 10 protest, said OPRF consistently makes an effort to support the aggressor but not the victim, and though SAFE is grateful that OPRF provides them with the space to express their frustration with the administration, it still fails to make OPRF a safer community for its students. 

Student athletes who are accused of sexual harassment are not reprimanded in a way that SAFE finds effective, Montes said. They are often given a light slap on the wrists and sent back to class. The group believes that athletes need to face additional consequences such as being removed from their teams. Powell adds that “we have the power to make change.” 

When asked when it will be enough, Montes says, “there’s not always a final destination, it’s about constantly changing.”

Ashley Brown is an OPRF student and a contributing reporter for Wednesday Journal.

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