Following an upper school assembly speech by anti-sexist activist Jackson Katz, the Prefect Council met with about a dozen students last Thursday to discuss his message to test a plan to host talks on pertinent topics on the quad during Monday breaks.
“I thought the test discussion was very productive, and I was really happy with what happened,” Senior Prefect Jensen McRae ’15 said. “It was very organic. We talked less about the content of the speech and the speaker than I anticipated, but it was fine because people had great suggestions for how to proceed with our idea about these discussions in the future.”
Future talks would focus on multiple topics, depending on what is relevant. The idea for these conversations started several weeks ago, but Katz’s speech catalyzed the plan.
“It was something we started talking about in the wake of a lot of Facebook posts [about gender] or apps that were making people have very unproductive conversations, and we were trying to think of ways to keep those conversations going but not behind a computer screen,” McRae said.
Katz encouraged students to shift the rhetoric of gender violence from being only a women’s issue during the April 20 assembly.
“Historically, people have seen sexual assault and gender violence issues as women’s issues that some good men help out with. I argue that these are men’s issues first and foremost,” Katz said.
Katz, who has a Ph.D. in culture studies from UCLA and co-founded the Mentors In Violence Prevention, specified that categorizing this violence as solely a problem for women gives men an excuse not to listen.
“Instead of remaining silent, we have to speak out to make it clear that we do not accept abusive behaviors,” Katz said.
Decreasing gender violence is helpful to men, specifically male children of abusive families and victims of male-to-male assault, he said. Solving these problems necessitates a change in the way we see masculinity and violence, he added.
“We have to raise the bar about what it means to be a good guy in the United States, if it just means ‘I am not a rapist,’” Katz said.
Katz also showed a video he made titled “Up the Ante” depicting the relationship between men and violent acts in the media and how it shapes the perception of masculinity. Katz also visited multiple Choices and Challenges classes, a Peer Support Trainee class and a faculty Q and A session.
“I really enjoyed hearing his insights in a more personal environment because we were given the opportunity to ask questions and have a discussion about how our community responds to the topics addressed in the assembly,” Peer Support trainee Alexa Ranger ’16 said.
Students had mixed reactions to Katz’s presentation. During and after Katz’s speech, students published anonymous polls on the app What’s Goodly that called Katz a “feminazi,” a term he discussed in his speech.
“I think that people who were getting defensive and who didn’t walk away with a take-home message just didn’t listen,” Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Kavita Ajmere said.
Other students supported the messages that Katz presented to the school.
“I thought Jackson Katz was addressing an issue that is important in life at Harvard-Westlake, and we should be making sure we treat everyone as equally as possible,” Kevin Wesel ’17 said. “I thought that although sometimes he could repeat himself, all of his messages were important to hear.”