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During this past Monday J block, the administration and students met together to discuss and outline the necessary steps in hopes of reopening the L bench.
The bench, which was originally closed due to food and noise complaints, has in further investigations been connected to sexual harassment allegations made by female students.
As Cutler Dean Josepha Blocker explains, the bench has remained closed for so long because of the administrative investigation that had to follow these allegations.
“When we closed it, it became clear that there was some other behavioral issues so we took time to investigate those issues and address them. So, now that we have done that piece, we had this meeting today so we could get a group of students together to help us come up with the next steps,” said Blocker.
Blocker says that the administration wants to open the bench, but stresses that they will be cautious in this process to ensure that past behaviors will not be repeated.
However, junior Marco Mercurio, who was involved in organizing a protest about the closure of the bench that was later cancelled, says the administration’s initial response should not have been to close the bench.
“I feel like closing the L bench is just a wrong move because a few people’s actions created this whole domino effect and everybody suffers from it and I don’t think it’s right,” Mercurio.
Mercurio continues by stating that the administration should have directly punished those involved instead of generalizing that everyone who sits on the L bench was associated with the allegations.
On the other hand, junior Adam Iskander, who also helped to organize the cancelled protest, says that though the administration should have initially closed the bench, it’s been closed for too long.
“I think closing the L bench originally was the right decision because I’m pretty sure they didn’t know what was going on right off the bat, they needed time to figure it out, but at this point it’s been closed for too long…[and] now we’re going to work to fix it instead of just closing it,” said Iskander.
Iskander says that the students should now have the power to control and decide the L bench’s fate and is pleased with open meetings like the one that occurred on Monday.
Agreeing with Iskander, junior Andrew Pratt, who also helped to organize the protest, thinks these meetings are more beneficial to students than posts on social media.
“Well I mean it’s a better way to express themselves right now there is a lot of people on facebook who are complaining about issues… that seems like it just makes the issue worse. When people are face to face, they tend to be more realistic about issues and they don’t express their issues in a violent, complaining way,” said Pratt.
Senior and President of the FEM club Jessie Shiner respects the message behind the boys’ protest, but does not see a protest as the most effective way of communicating frustrations.
“That’s not the exact way I would go about solving this problem, but I think there is so much to be done and the administration is working on doing a lot by themselves to kind of mend this situation, so I totally respect anybody’s desire and want to try to fix it,” said Shiner.
Shiner favors events that encourage positivity and cooperation between students and the administration, rather than further distancing the two parties.
For Pratt, the reopening the L bench remains an important issue because currently the administration has closed a central communal gathering place for students.
“It’s just nice to eat lunch there because there are not many spots around the school or the spots that there are, there is always people there and it’s just a nice place. It’s a very communal place. People can see each other easier and it’s in the center of the school, so it’s easier to access,” said Pratt.
In addition, reopening the L bench will demonstrate the end of what appears as South’s categorization that a larger group of students were involved in the sexual harassment allegations.
All three junior boys hope that by organizing a protest, and then advertising this meeting, that the rest of the student body will stand together and help quicken the process of reopening the bench.
“Yeah I feel like it’s a way to show that there is a community and support to fight this issue and that it’s also just to show the school that this isn’t the right solution to this problem,” said Mercurio.
Paralleling Mercurio’s view, Pratt encourages other students to voice their opinions to show the administration that their students recognize the importance of reopening the L bench.
“Everyone needs to speak up and let their opinion be heard because we’re trying to represent a larger body and that’s impossible to do unless other people take an active stance in this situation,” said Pratt.
Blocker agrees with the boys’ views and stresses that these meetings can only be successful if a large group of students stand up and cooperate with the administration.
For Iskander, these meetings and the administration’s punishment of those guilty has demonstrated to many students the severity of the comments made at the bench.
“Although, we didn’t make a stand earlier, me personally I didn’t notice that it was that big deal, but now that I do, I will, I don’t care who it is that’s making these remarks, I will say something and I will report it,” said Iskander.
After these meetings, Iskander says that the students sitting on the bench will definitely be more cautious with their words, but can not guarantee that all students will improve their behavior.
Blocker wants to encourage student involvement and says interested students can talk with their House Dean to take part in a working group comprised of students and faculty focused on resolving these issues.
“I think that we want students to be invested in the solution, so it’s important that people engage with the process, so they can be part of the solution and it’s also we don’t want it to be closed forever. We just want people to take ownership in this space in a more productive way than they have,” said Blocker.