Opinion: THS fails to address students’ and community’s concerns

By Laura Taylor, Staff Writer

On the morning of Tigard High’s senior football night, someone hung a powerful statement outside the football field: a poster that read “This team has rapists.” Spanning across a portion of the fence, the poster’s bold letters grabbed the attention of parents, news networks, and students after a photo of it circulated on social media. 

It has now been over a month since that morning, and with the exception of a singular email sent out by the administration, the school has taken no public action to address the situation to its students or parents since the day the event took place. Unfortunately, the poster itself and how the situation was handled once again show the school’s failed policies and responses at work when it comes to topics surrounding rape culture.

Throughout my four years of high school, I have heard rumors, seen walkouts, and listened while students have talked, all of which centered on a sort of ‘open secret’ that exists within the halls of THS and on social media. In 2020, allegations spiked after anonymous social media accounts detailed current and former students’ experiences with sexual assault while attending Tigard-Tualatin’s schools, an issue so prominent it caught the attention of The Portland Tribune and The Oregonian. The common theme shared on these accounts? Victims were not being listened to. 

Clearly, there are multiple issues with these situations. 

First, according to the student handbook and the email sent out this fall, incidents of sexual assault or harassment are to be reported to Safe Oregon (the online tipline created for Oregon students), an administrator, or the school resource officer. However, no information is provided on these resources as to who specifically handles these reports or what is done. It is not communicated what the procedures are, who is in charge of reading these reports, and what actions get taken by the school in these situations. While I understand that the majority of these things are determined on a case-by-case basis, students deserve to know the general process of what happens to their reports even before they submit them. This is information that should be provided publicly within the student handbook. How are students supposed to feel listened to if they do not know who is listening?

Second, by allowing students who are under investigation to play freely, THS and the district appear to be valuing the alleged abuser’s education more than those who have been abused. 

Of course, it is impossible to know who or what ‘team’ the individual(s) who hung the poster referred to that day. But with ‘team’ possibly meaning any activity falling under the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) umbrella, it is reasonable to infer the point the person who hung the poster is trying to make: students undergoing sexual assault investigations should be reevaluated in regards to their participation in sports. 

While students undergoing investigation for sexual assault remain innocent until proven guilty, the school still needs to evaluate the accused students’ participation in sports. By allowing the student to continue regular extracurricular involvement, it makes it difficult for other students to believe that the concerns are being addressed properly. When their peers no longer feel safe, it creates the impression that the school is valuing the alleged abusers’ privileges over the safety of its students.  

The lack of action from the school is not only impacting students, but reinforcing the issues surrounding rape culture in our society as a whole. Men are often pitied and valued due to the possibility of being ‘falsely accused.’ In reality, false reports are consistently low at only two percent to ten percent. With this societal concept in place, women are often forced to drop charges and choose not to report due to associated stigmas and fear of retaliation. Tigard High students may never be comfortable speaking up knowing that their abuser will continue to be valued with the existing policies that are in place. 

There are certain eligibility requirements students have to follow in order to participate in sports. Outlined by the student handbook and OSAA, these documents state that student-athletes have to fulfill certain academic requirements, refrain from involvement or use of drugs and alcohol, attend school, etc. Failure to comply with these requirements is cause for a student to not participate in athletic games or practices. However, neither of these documents includes mention of sexual assault, restraining orders, or eligibility for students undergoing investigation. 

I reached out to two football players who spoke under the condition of anonymity, about what was clearly expressed to players regarding their on and off-field behaviors. To their recollection, no form of anti-sexual harassment policy was ever communicated with the team as a whole. 

So what does this policy mean for student-athletes? According to rules outlined by the district handbook, students who are unable to attend a full day of school are not allowed to participate in the same day’s game, but a potentially dangerous student undergoing investigation for sexual assault is allowed to take part. This should be a key sign that the policies created for the Tigard Tualatin School district are flawed. 

I understand any student undergoing investigation for sexual assault still retains their right to an education, but even the inconsistent student handbook states that being an athlete in our district is a privilege, which implies that it can be revoked as a consequence of various actions. As a woman, this absence of clear policy scares me. It scares me because it reinforces the idea to society that sexual assault is not important enough to address or try to prevent. It scares me because the current system makes it possible for it to keep happening. 

From ‘concerning’ to ‘inappropriate,’ community members have labeled the poster as being many different things. But I see it as a wake-up call, and so should the students and faculty of our district. I see it as a wake-up call that the current policies surrounding these issues are flawed. This is a conversation that needs to be had, and not just at an administrative level, but with student voice and input. The person(s) who put the poster up did not feel heard, and this frustration is felt collectively across the district’s students and faculty. 

We may never know why the poster was hung on Oct. 21,  but regardless of the person’s reasons, THS should use it as an opportunity to follow through on the district’s stated goals of providing safe, equitable education to all students, regardless of their statuses as athletes.