School Launches Sexual Assault Board


Chloe Frajmund

Matilda Melkonian ’18 is a member of the newly formed Sexual Assault Board at Bronx Science.

As sexual assault and harassment stories blow up across the country, Bronx Science has decided to take a stance on the issue by starting its very own Sexual Assault Board: a group specifically designed to address and prevent sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination within the school. Starting as a collaboration between Project FIRE (‘Feminism: Inclusive, Rights, Equality,’ a Bronx Science feminist initiative that was started last year), the Administration, and the Guidance Department, the group hopes to create a community in which people are not afraid to come forward and tell their stories.

Elise Caldarola, World Language Department teacher and Project FIRE advisor, said that although the D.O.E has clear rules when dealing with sexual harassment and assault within schools, she believes that the D.O.E policy feels “disconnected from the topic, and that [our board is] needed to adjust and specify things to better fit our school and our community.” Phoebe Cooper, the Assistant Principal of Organization, said that she took part in establishing the Board because she has “college-aged children and believes that men and women, boys and girls, should feel protected and empowered on any campus.”

“A big part of this campaign and this board is changing the stigma that comes with stepping forward. We need victims to feel safe enough to come forward with their stories.” – Julia Catrambone ’19

The Board is not only made up of adults, but of passionate students as well. “For students to have a body made to protect them, they need to be a part of the process,” said Cooper.

Matilda Melkonian ’18, a student on the Sexual Assault Board, was inspired to join because of the school’s lack of involvement when it comes to teaching about sexual harassment. “I felt that it should become a part of our curriculum or a mandatory lesson in gym classes. I went to the Administration with these ideas and they directed me towards the board!” Melkonian said.

“I joined the Board because the idea of changing how the school regards women’s rights along with the guidelines and social understandings of what is considered sexual harassment in our community is very important to me,” Alif Matin ’19 said. “This is an important transitioning step for the school, and the idea of being a male in a movement where there is not enough male presence and support empowers me to fight so that other men stand up for women and women’s rights.”

The Sexual Assault Board plans to start their campaign in March 2018. This school-wide campaign will consist of posters in the hallways reminding students of what sexual harassment and assault is and looks like, as well as methods on how to report an incident.

“A big part of this campaign and this board is changing the stigma that comes with stepping forward,” said Julia Catrambone ’19, another student on the Sexual Assault Board. “We need victims to feel safe enough to come forward with their stories.”

The Board wants to insure that incidents can be reported and prevented. Students are often unaware of what they can and cannot report, and are reluctant to say anything, especially if the topic makes them uncomfortable.

“If it happens on school grounds, it’s relevant, if it happens on Vallo, it’s relevant, if it happens online, it’s relevant,” said Caldarola, “We don’t stop being a part of the Bronx Science community simply because we’ve exited the doors.”

Alexander Thorp
Members of the Sexual Assault Board are in deep discussion during a meeting.

The Board hopes to get organizations and professionals to come in and talk to the student body about topics such as dating violence, consent, and harassment. Matin believes that “lessons on sexual assault and harassment are just as important as sex-ed and HIV lessons, and students should be exposed to this information at school.”

Students on the Sexual Assault Board have drafted a letter to Mariska Hargitay, an actress on the popular NBC show ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’ as well as president of the organization ‘Joyful Hearts’ which aims to “transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.”

“We chose Mariska Hargitay because her SVU character, Olivia Benson, has done great things to change the narrative of a survivor in respects to speaking up, testifying, and fighting back. We hope to embrace a similar change from within our school, ideally with her help.” said Catrambone.

This effort to stop victim-blaming and to educate ourselves on sexual harassment, assault, and violence is not only an effort by the Sexual Assault Board, but one that should be school-wide. Teachers, staff, administration, and especially students need to know what will not be tolerated within our community, and that there will be repercussions if such things happen. Being a Bronx Science student means that you contribute to this community both in and outside of school.

“When students become involved, it goes beyond the administration following D.O.E rules. Students stand by students, especially at a school like ours,” Melkonian said.