By Elaina Kleven
What began with one Riverside student noticing a problem with sexual harassment in the school district resulted in thousands of supporters calling for change.
Temi Salaam, a sophomore at Martin Luther King High School, said that she heard stories of sexual harassment on the Riverside Unified School District campuses created a desire not only for change, but accountability as well.
Salaam then started a petition for support in creating solutions. The petition garnered over 2,000 supporters in less than a month.
The wave of support surprised her.
“I wasn’t expecting it to get this much attention at all,” Salaam said.
Shortly after starting the petition, she started an Instagram page and gathered a team of 12 people from different schools around the district who are pushing for awareness and consideration from the school board to enact a new system regarding sexual harassment. Many victims of ignored sexual assault came forward to support the team and the actions it aims for.
Teachers at MLK High School have also shown support for the new guidelines Salaam is calling for. Some, like her theater teacher gave her a platform to speak about her efforts and raise further awareness.
“This has been a long time coming,” she said.
Many of the victims agree.
“I’ve never experienced sexual assault, however, I have a lot of friends that are at RUSD that have,” said a team advocate who chose to remain anonymous. “It was a battle to make them do their jobs.”
But the push for change was met with resistance by some MLK students.
Salaam said the account has received messages during the Instagram live streams attacking her with several accounts. Others messaged the account stories about how they sexually harassed other students, she added.
While passing out flyers at school for a picnic event the team was hosting, some female students were “very vocal” about how much they did not want to attend the picnic.
“It was kind of staggering because those were the exact people we’re doing this for,” Salaam said.
The team is pushing RUSD to enact numerous policies such as a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault cases, change the dress code and change the minor to minor sexual assault cases to sixth grade and above, as well as to hold RUSD staff members accountable for not reporting a sexual assault incident.
The team met with board members and expressed its concerns April 29. Salaam said RUSD seemed to be open about changing its policies in order to create a better environment for students.
“I think this is going to stop boys and perpetrators from being so comfortable with sexually assaulting people,” Salaam said. “I think it will empower girls to share what happened to them and feel more comfortable reporting it.” To find the team’s Instagram page, visit www.instagram.com/rusd.sa.reform/.