The #BoysLockerRoom Is A Wake-Up Call For Schools To Step Up

TW: Mentions of assault, rape, cyberbullying.

These students don’t need to know anything about this [sexual health] until they are married, it is inappropriate.” This was said to me by the principal of a Delhi-based English medium private school during a workshop with female students in grade 9 about sexual well-being and reproductive rights.

Burying conversations, policing female students, and the lack of sensitisation training provided to teachers is a common occurrence in schools across Delhi and beyond. When a Delhi girl exposed a ‘bois locker room‘ group chat and its participants on Instagram late last night, social media blew up with conversations about how girls are sexually exploited by sharing private images of them without their consent among third parties and threatening comments that go to the extent of rape threats. While this incident is shocking and despicable, it is certainly not new.

 

Shows permission to recirculate the information put up by the concerned user.  Source: Instagram

I have, firsthand, witnessed groups of boys as young as 14-years of age in schools participating in such activities in varying degrees. Having a girl’s private photos was, and is, considered a kind of achievement for them to boast about, and share among their friends who are just as complicit. When I first witnessed this happen at my own school, I was in ninth grade myself and not one boy, nor teacher stood up for all the girl students who were silently going through this traumatic experience. It was an open secret that no one had the courage to call out. Perhaps out of fear, shame, or simply because they themselves allowed such activities to take place.

However, despite multiple calls to action at an individual level calling for introspection, courage, empathy, and support, I am yet to see an important stakeholder take the responsibility of changing such a mindset: schools.

The ‘Bois Locker Room‘ incident is one case in the hundreds that take place in each school all the time. Schools have a duty to acknowledge that such atrocious activities sometimes begin in their own backyard and they must step forward to protect the youth that they play such an important role in shaping.

Schools play a role in normalising this behaviour by either playing an active role in subduing it, humiliating students publicly for expression or dissent, or simply sweeping them under the rug. It is time to own up to our role in allowing this to happen.

This is not a one-time conversation but one that needs to be encouraged, supported, and imbibed at all levels starting from the hub of all educational activity. After working with and being a part of a number of schools and organisations, here are a few simple actionable steps that schools can take to create a safe learning environment to allow their students to thrive by making them responsible and empowered.

Representational image. I see so many individuals and groups talk about how students are “too young” to understand concepts of such complexity but, in fact, there is never a better time than to start these conversations when the mind is still impressionable.
  • The first and perhaps most important step is to sensitise not just students, but also parents and teachers on a regular basis. Concepts like health boundaries, consent, sexual harassment, and toxic masculinity cannot be solved overnight or with one workshop. They need to be constantly brought up and be entrenched as a part of every initiative the school takes.
  • Involving parents in the discourse is essential to ensure that the same themes are repeated in the household so that schools and families can take a collaborative approach to remove stigmas and normalising conversations that are often difficult to navigate.
  • Start the conversation early. I see so many individuals and groups talk about how students are “too young” to understand concepts of such complexity but, in fact, there is never a better time than to start these conversations when the mind is still impressionable. Mutual respect; consent; differentiating between safe unsafe and unwanted; toxic behaviour; and gender stereotypes are only complicated if you make them out to be so. Children are willing to listen, it is up to you to raise your voice.
  • Stop shying away from the evident need for Comprehensive Sexuality Education. It is a difficult conversation but not an impossible one that can be started gradually. The glaring need to discuss these important subjects has come up time and again yet we continue to remain ignorant.

    For the lack of a better phrase, stop half ass-ing your responsibility to your students by implementing a program that is ineffective, impractical, non-inclusive, and is only meant for you to earn brownie points.

  • Regular training for teachers on how to handle such cases with sensitivity and conduct themselves in day-to-day scenarios. We all come from different backgrounds and with different beliefs, but in a school setting our teachers act as our role models. I distinctly remember a conference for which my friends and I wore Indian suits and a teacher nearby said, “I thought these girls only signed up for the conference because they wanted to wear short dresses.” This is just a small example of how teachers can unconsciously, and consciously, perpetuate problematic stereotypes that make students believe it is okay to objectify and sexualise their fellow classmates.

    Representational image. We all come from different backgrounds and with different beliefs, but in a school setting our teachers act as our role models.
  • Institute an unbiased and independent sexual harassment committee that regularly looks into such matters and provides a space for students to seek help without fear of judgement or repercussions while taking their agency into account. Schools should circulate clear guidelines and complete transparency to all stakeholders about the functioning of this committee.
  • Develop proactive counselling channel that makes professional counselling services available to students. While many schools have councillors, they tend to only intervene in extreme cases and are often ineffective in bringing about systemic change.

Finally, I encourage schools to take the first step, initiate the conversation. You are responsible for creating the space required for these conversations to be brought to the right authorities. You are the ones who set an example for the hundreds, if not thousands, of students you impact every day with the way you handle situations that impinge on their long-term mental health and well-being.

Featured image for representation only.
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