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Driven by Culture: Relationships & Consent

“It is not just curriculum-driven, but culture-driven,” emphasizes Steven L., the Director of Equity, Inclusion & Civic Engagement since 2015. “We need to remember who we are.”

This year, Burke is taking action (and making changes) to support students who have experienced gender-based harassment and violence, with a focus on the cultural and social expectations that perpetuate such violence – at schools, universities, and nationwide. The goal? A proactive and comprehensive approach, rather than a case-by-case response.
Summer 2020
Before the school year began, faculty and staff gathered in gender-based affinity groups, with the adults who are gender-marginalized offering honest accounts of their own experiences. All adults took part in sexual harassment training with the National Association of Independent Schools, as well as mandated reporter training.

Following a full-scale revision of our Student Information System’s resources, students now have a “one click” option for submitting an anonymous concern to the School Counselor, sending an anonymous question to the Director of Equity & Inclusion and a team of student affinity group leaders, and making an appointment with the Counselor online. The School Counselor was also added to the administrative team, starting this fall.

Fall 2020
Within our pandemic-necessitated new schedule, Burke has dedicated specific and recurring times for Gender & Sexuality-based affinity groups. Designed to counter the assumption that sexism is a “girls issue,” the new Boys Leading Boys group draws students from both the middle school and the high school.

In the first week of November, students in every grade participated in programming around consent and healthy relationships. This year, Burke welcomed facilitators from non-profit One Love Foundation to lead these important discussions, starting with an all-high school assembly, then moving to meetings with each grade. Students built up to and reflected on these programs in grade meetings and advisory groups.

Looking Forward
Now in her seventh year at Burke, Sarah S. has taken the helm of the Health, Values, and Ethics (HVE) Department. Pioneered by longtime faculty Stacy S., Burke's “spiralling” HVE curriculum provides an iterative revisiting of topics at different grade and maturity levels – knowing, Sarah explains, that students experience consent and gender dynamics differently as they age. 7th graders watch movies and popular media, debating whether the relationships portrayed are healthy or problematic, while 10th graders are discussing sexuality issues more directly with their peers and partners.

But again, these very issues often play out in the Atrium, at the tables in the Commons, and just outside the Deans’ Suite – not in the classroom. As Alexis M. (10th Grade Dean) points out, “we need to catch and raise dynamics betweens kids as we see them. We are still suffering from a lack of understanding about gender norms.” Simply, cultural forces still quietly and insidiously influence how young people (and adults) interact, how they wield power unknowingly or how they have historically been deprived of it.

The work, therefore, is ever-evolving and ever-crucial – and by no means complete.
Co-ed, progressive, college prep school in Washington, DC featuring a challenging curriculum in an inclusive environment for grades 6-12.