Tupac Shakur once said schools should teach a real sex education class that goes beyond pictures, diagrams and “unlogical” terms. I always took this to mean that while sex education classes place their focus on the biology of sex, the sociology of sex is largely missing with principles such as consent and bystander intervention typically glossed over. The students at Trinity High School however, may just be getting that education Shakur called for over three decades ago. Each year, Trinity’s seniors are required to take a Senior Capstone class to meet their graduation requirement.
“The class is designed to prepare students for life outside of high school,” said teacher Allie Kerns.
For the past four years, Kerns has taught one of the school’s capstone courses. “In the class, we teach students a variety of life skills from budgeting and resume writing to time management and writing a grocery list,” Kerns said. One of the most important units, however, focuses on sexual assault prevention.
The unit begins with a screening of the 2015 documentary, “The Hunting Ground.” The award-winning film focuses on collegiate sexual assault and, for many of the students, it’s an eye-opening look at the university life many of them are about to enter.
“I have to be very honest with them about how college culture is a culture shock,” said Kerns, a Western Kentucky and UofL alum. “It’s important for the students to not only know that this stuff does happen, but also to understand how to protect each other from being assaulted and from being a perpetrator of sexual assault themselves.”
In the second week of the unit, Kerns hosts yours truly as a guest lecturer. Students engage in an interactive workshop called “Just A Few Questions,” which covers topics such as consent and bystander intervention, with reminders that while sex is a normal part of college life, there are social and legal responsibilities that must be met. The seniors are encouraged to live by these values once they set foot on the college campus, in hopes they will be leaders amongst their peers.
While the capstone course is taught in several sections, Kern’s class is unique, as her students create their own sexual assault prevention PSA videos. Using the Obama Era “1 is 2 Many” video as a model, Kern’s students create their own short clips, sharing their research on the crime of sexual assault.
“The students have fun recording the videos, but this assignment also leads them to doing their own research on sexual assault and learning just how prevalent this issue is,” Kerns said.
So how do her students respond to this three-week unit? Kerns says that typically 99% of her students understand the importance of the topic and are ready to dive in headfirst.
“There are always a few students that are uncomfortable with the topic at first. But by the end of the third week, they are thanking me for ‘forcing them’ to talk about it,” said Kerns.
Kerns remembers one specific student who seemed unmotivated through most of the semester. When the sexual prevention unit was taught however, he would come to her and thank her each day for taking the time to teach the material. “Things like that just reaffirm how important this unit is and that it is actually leaving an effect on the students,” Kerns said. She also notices positive effects the unit has on students outside of her class. “Students don’t think teachers listen to them in the halls or the lunchroom, but we hear everything,” she said. “What we notice is that the students are becoming more mindful of their words and their actions after the unit is taught.”
With the students returning to campus full time in the fall, Kerns hopes to extend their sexual assault prevention education to include a dedicated workshop on bystander intervention as well as continuing to bring more awareness to how common the crime of sexual assault actually is. In a school that encourages its students to find their path to greatness, the senior sexual assault prevention unit and teachers like Allie Kerns are illuminating the way. •
James J. Wilkerson, J.D., is the director of Staff Diversity and Equity and the Deputy Title IX Coordinator at IU Southeast.