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Task force to unveil campaign to root out sexism

  • April Camuso, head of the English Department at Hopkins Academy, is leading a Gender Equity Task Force at the school. The task force will unveil its #recognizesexism campaign on Saturday at the high school’s basketball games. Tom Pitta



Staff Writer
Thursday, January 18, 2018

HADLEY — After about 60 female students held a sit-in at Hopkins Academy last April to bring attention to issues of sexism in the school, the administration listened and responded by forming a task force to bring about change.

Led by April Camuso, head of the school’s English Department, the Gender Equity Task Force will unveil its #recognizesexism campaign on Saturday between the boys’ and girls’ basketball games.

“Our hope is that this campaign will validate the experiences of those in our community and begin more conversations about what sexism is and how to behave in a more respectful and equitable manner,” Camuso said.

The unveiling will consist of two parts.

First, group members will sell raffle tickets for prizes donated by local sponsors like 50/50 Fitness/Nutrition, Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery, Hot Table and Mill Valley Milk Company. All proceeds will go to the Center for Women and Community at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Second, Camuso will present the campaign between the two basketball games, unveil three related photographs to be displayed in the school, and draw raffle winners. The photos depict individuals from the school community next to sexist statements said to them, or statements in support of the cause, and will remain on display throughout the school and on the task force’s Instagram account

“I think it’s really critical we’re talking about these things now,” said Meghan Rothschild, president of the public relations company Chikmedia, which helped craft the campaign. “Especially because it’s so timely and (students) go home and hear about women coming forward on the news and they can talk to their families about it.”

Rothschild said the personal, visual and social media components of the #recognizesexism campaign would be integral to its success. Hiring photographer Tom Pitta, she had the idea to take portraits of the individuals for the photo series and present them alongside their own statements and stories of times they have experienced sexism.

The Gender Equity Task Force consists of about 20 students and four teachers who meet about once a month as needed. They make long- and short-term goals, like overhauling the dress code and creating a network of faculty to whom students can report incidents of sexism, racism or bullying.

Students at April’s sit-in saw inconsistent enforcement of dress code policies and lower attendance at women’s sporting events as evidence of gender inequality.

“These students are leaders,” Superintendent Anne McKenzie said in a statement. “They are not satisfied with describing conditions they find unacceptable; they research what they can do to make positive changes and they act.”

Following the sit-in, the district hired a communications consultant to help the group brainstorm ideas for a gender equity media campaign in the school, and updated the dress code.

Now, instead of length requirements for shorts, garments that cover “one’s rear” are appropriate. Rules about the showing of undergarments now have language that applies to men, women and gender nonconforming students, and any dress code violations are to be addressed in private instead of in front of a class or among peers.

“Knowing that my students were going through the same unfair challenges, and seeing their bravery in standing united against them, I felt bound to be courageous as well and to take action to help make our school community a better place,” Camuso said on her decision to help form the group.

In the spring, the task force will hold formal discussions around issues of sexism and end with a campaign about social norms and how to end some of society’s toxic habits.

Still, Camuso says issues of sexism persist in society, and the skills students learn through the task force will help them all their lives.

“More than anything I have learned about the power of conviction,” she said. “Our students felt that there was a pervasive injustice in the school community. And instead of shying away from that uncomfortable and challenging fact, they stood firm and they worked, and still work, toward making a better future.”

The Hopkins Academy boys basketball game begins Saturday at 4 p.m. in the school’s gymnasium, followed by Camuso’s presentation of the campaign around 5:30 p.m. and the girls basketball game. The event is open to the community and alumni are encouraged to attend for a discounted ticket price of $3.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.