December 19th, 2017
Good Morning. My name is Katharine, and I am a graduate of Presentation High School. I am here today to speak to my own experience of sexual harassment at Presentation by a teacher and the inaction of the school’s administration when the harassment was brought to their attention.
I am telling this story today because I know that Kathryn Leehane and the unnamed Jane Doe are not alone in having had their concerns dismissed. Presentation High School administration has consistently prioritized the reputation of the school above creating a genuinely safe and comfortable learning environment for young women.
During my freshman year, the 2006-2007 school year, my math teacher continuously sexually harassed my classmates and me. It was his policy to exchange Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses for the correct answers to his questions. Saying that he would give us a kiss if we got an answer correct. The sexual innuendo was clearly communicated and caused students to stop participating in class. This lead him to escalate the innuendo, saying things “oh, well then you must want two kisses from me” when a student refused to answer a question.
My classmates and I repeatedly asked him to stop, telling him that he was making us uncomfortable, and that we just wanted to learn math without him joking about kissing us. He responded by laughing, and continued to make his jokes on a daily basis.
Additionally, he made frequent intrusive comments about how he liked my hair, that he like my appearance, and told me that he watched me walk to and from school. On several occasions, during lecture, he’d relocate me from my desk to sit with him in the back of the class. He would press his legs up against mine and rest his hand on my hand. Each time, I would tell him I didn’t want to leave my desk. He would insist that I sit with him. Once relocated, I would sit there in fear, frozen, heart racing, not knowing what to say or do. Just knowing that it felt wrong, and that all I wanted was to sit at my desk with the rest of the girls and learn.
Because his behavior never stopped, mid-way through the school year, I decided to ask my counselor for help. When I made my report, I was shocked to hear my counselor say that I wasn’t the first person to share these complaints about him. That they had been aware of his behavior since early in the school year. Her attitude was flippant, unsupportive, and unconcerned. She did not ask about my well-being, offer to intervene, or facilitate a conversation. Instead she told me not to worry, that he wouldn’t be coming back next year. She told me not to repeat what she had shared with me, she told me to “keep that under my hat.”
His behavior continued the rest of the school year, up to the “End of the Year Assembly” where he went up on the stage, received a bouquet of flowers, was given a round of applause, and thanked for his time at the school. I felt confused, betrayed, and felt that my voice was unimportant to the school.
Since the publication of Kathryn’s letter in the Washington Post, I have reconnected with several of my classmates, and we’ve talked about how uncomfortable he made us, the way that it impaired our ability to learn, and how dismayed we were by the administration’s response. Presentation administration knew about his behavior and knowingly subjected us to him every day for an entire year. Prioritizing their reputation over protecting us from this man.
I was not alone in what I went through. My classmate, Shelby Rusconi, also experienced similar abuse, and it too was reported. When the school failed to act, she transferred out of Presentation at the end of the year.
I want to make it clear that I loved my time at Presentation High School. I am a proud presentation graduate. My time at Presentation molded me into the woman I am today. I am here today with Presentations motto in mind, “Not Words, But Deeds” I am here today to publicly stand with the victims and demand change. I want the victims to know to that they are not alone; that I believe you and support you. I am here to ask the Presentation administration to acknowledge the consistent pattern in the way that it has failed to support young women, and that it commit to protecting students. Thank you.