Ms. Dillman’s ‘Sexual Assault and AHS’ Interview Transcript

Ms.+Dillmans+Sexual+Assault+and+AHS+Interview+Transcript

Becky Chen, Rebecca Tao, and Kate De Prima

TW: This article contains mentions sexual assault, which may be distressing for readers. 

 

This is a transcript of an interview with AHS principal Ms. Angela Dillman and The Apache Pow Wow board members Becky Chen and Rebecca Tao conducted on Sept. 18 regarding potential sexual misconduct on campus. It has been edited for clarity and consistency. Introduction has been omitted, the interview starts at the first question. This interview was transcribed by board member Kate De Prima.

Rebecca: With how fast news spreads now, with social media, how does the administration plan to address potentially false information [especially when it comes to sexual assault]?

Ms. Dillman: Some of the things that came out on social media were very accurate and factual, some were an emotional reaction, and we were never able to get to the factual root of them. But it didn’t matter; it was time for us to reflect on our practices, find victims, support them; justice is to be had that we were working through that as well. Where we found a really big place we can improve is closing the loop. 

And what I mean by that is, someone reports—and let’s say it something minor, like “some guy is following me around and won’t leave me alone”—making sure after we talked to the parent, talked to the student, even if we involve the police in something like really big, to make sure we always loop back to the person we reported, and tell them what we can. Even if that’s just, “We have taken this very seriously, we think this should’ve stopped. Has it stopped? How are you? Please come back to us if this happens again.” It’s that last piece we need to be really deliberate about. And sometimes things we might think may be small, we don’t get to make that judgment. It’s the person who reported it; it’s their life, and it’s them feeling safe and comfortable. 

That’s what we need to make sure we respect, that everyone feels safe and comfortable, and we need to close the loopback, and say that “Hey, we have done everything on our end that we could, that we think will end this action. Has it ended? Do you feel safe?” 

So, our number one priority is who reports, and making sure we follow up with them. And maybe follow up again, connecting them with [the] wellness counselor, like “Hey, this is something weird that happened to you.” It could be tragic, it could be criminal. Whatever it is, making sure that they get the support they need to process those emotions. Because if you just leave yourself to deal with it alone you may or may not come to a healthy conclusion. 

So, really [focusing on] partnering with the wellness aspect, [so] you don’t have to handle everything alone. That is a part of our process that we need to be very deliberate about, and we also need to be deliberate about making sure that students know that, even during this time, this is how you report, this is how you reach out. 

But I think, what I’m—well, “excited” is weird because of the context, but one of the things I’m eager to offer students is something that I’m working on right now… which is sexual misconduct training and awareness, that I’m hoping to deliver to all parents, staff and students in October. I’m working with two experts in this area, to develop training that is specific to this community. Number one, it was really difficult to find someone who I thought would work for us. Who, you know, understood our needs, asked the right questions, instead of just selling a product. [Someone who says] “here’s this training, watch this video, and you’re done.” That’s not what I want, I want them to understand who we are, understand what happened here, understand our community concerns. Because over the summer, a lot of students reached out to me, and told me that “the biggest problem for me is that we can’t talk about anything like this in my house. My parents are very uncomfortable. So please, I need [help] from the school.” So, it was really having those conversations and finding out what they need. 

I’m excited for that training and awareness, especially with parents. It’s not only going to focus on what to do if something terrible happened to you, but how to recognize that this is a possibility. How to recognize this relationship is going in a way that I’m not comfortable with, and having the tools to stop it. In the world, and especially in America, the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by people you know, and sometimes people you’re in a relationship with. 

So, it’s really to recognize if you’re developing an unhealthy relationship, and how to get help there, and what constitutes sexual misconduct and what constitutes [sexual] assault. I think for us: What’s the meaning of consent? I have learned so much about consent—affirmative consent, legal consent, and they just told me about this other consent, I can’t remember the name of it but it’s like “ultra” affirmative consent. So, really knowing what you’re giving permission to do, and knowing the consequences. This is where I’m learning, and where I want our students to be as aware as possible about. I keep saying “through all this” and I don’t want to take this out of proportion, and I don’t want to minimize it. I want to face our issues head-on, realistically, and just be realistic and upfront about what we need to do, what we need to change and what our students are going through. 

Becky: Yeah, I really agree with the part about not being able to bring this up at home, because I feel like that’s one of the biggest problems when it comes to these [types of issues]. Especially in the Asian American community, which largely comprises our student population, there’s a huge stigma about approaching your family with these kinds of things. 

Ms. Dillman: Well, that’s what I’ve learned too. While talking to students over the summer they were very uncomfortable talking about anything that they did with their boyfriends or girlfriends.

Becky: Right. 

Ms. Dillman: It’s just, they didn’t know where to turn. 

Rebecca: Right, that’s so true. There’s this stigma, there’s this shame that comes with it. And dissolving that is really important. I love what you said about recognizing the patterns because that relates to prevention, and preventing these things from happening. 

Becky: I want to ask some more questions about this training you mentioned. Do you have any specifics about it? Like where it would be implemented, how is it going to go, like what is it going to look like? 

Ms. Dillman: No, I don’t know yet, because like probably in the last three weeks I found consultants I thought would be good. [There’s] two, it’s a partnership, a man and a woman—one has worked in schools, and the other one is a psychologist that specializes in adolescents. So together, the woman really understands the legal aspect of this [sexual misconduct] happening in a school, and the man understands the emotional and psychological impact… and I thought that was a really good partnership. 

The psychologist, as I’ve told him about our community, [told me he] knows a colleague who is Chinese American, and I thought that he might be really good to address our parents, because he would understand the stigma you mentioned and be able to be culturally responsive to the needs of our community.

So, I don’t know what it’s going to look like yet, and for me, I have this sense of urgency, like I want it to happen right now, but I don’t want to give our students something that’s not good quality and something that doesn’t meet our needs. I don’t want it to be: “We checked the box! We did the training! We’re good!” So, I don’t know what it’s going to look like yet, but I’m hoping that we deliver it before the end of October. And I want to make sure we have the parent and staff meeting before the student meeting, so everybody knows what’s coming and they’ll be able to support students when they learn—possibly triggering—stuff. 

But also, another thing I learned is that kids just want a place to have conversations or get information [about things] they may not know a lot about. Also starting in October, and I don’t when yet, we’re going to have after school health and wellness discussion groups. That will focus on topics that, I think, from what I’ve gathered from conversations, are the ones you want to hear about. And I’m sending out a survey next week that will encompass the top ten discussion areas that I’m going to have students vote [on], to make sure that we cover the topics that are most important to you. That will be led by one of our health teachers and our wellness counselor, together they’ll be those discussion groups. So, even if people are uncomfortable asking about it,  they can just come and listen. 

Rebecca: That’s great. I love how [the administration] is taking feedback and really working on that and listening to the student body. That is so important. 

Becky: So as you saw in the questions, we’ll be talking about the group chat incident, and I’m sure you’re aware of it. Is this something that is okay to disclose? 

Ms. Dillman: Wait, I’m sorry, I’ve been aware of so many different things this summer. Can you just confirm which one you’re talking about? 

Becky: Sure, so it’s like this group chat, I think two years ago, it was reported to the administration, to the police. It was a group chat where these high school boys were sending sexual videos of their own encounters, and just sharing it with each other. And the girls had no idea. If you know Medium, it’s this [publishing platform] that covered it, and in their article [the author] said that the two girls reported it to the AHS administration but the [assailants] were not held accountable. To their knowledge, the [assailants] were only called in for questioning. So, you weren’t here years ago, but do you have any insight on what happened two years ago—from the administration’s perspective? We’re only limited to the reporter’s knowledge. 

Ms. Dillman: I mean, yes and no, I can tell you what I understand. Sometimes these things are found out about later, so there’s some timeline problems. But when we have all the facts, and people come forward with as many facts as possible, we’re able to take action. And the reason that we were able to take action this time is because a victim had the most specific information and that was able to lead to real consequences. I guess I would say, in my experience since I’ve been the principal we have taken everything very seriously. We’ve been able to help victims and make sure that these things stop. Things that were recorded two years ago I can’t really speak specifically to. 

I want to say that right now we take these things extremely seriously and that’s always been my experience working with this administration. That’s really all I can say. I think getting any more specific, it would violate the confidentiality of those who reported and the specifics of what they reported… which might be a little different from what you’re hearing, because there are so many different stories that are conflating. 

Rebecca: It’s great to hear that the district is being more receptive to the student body, but I think before that there was a lot of distrust in the administration. People were definitely unsure of what [was going to happen] because it wasn’t transparent as before. How is the district going to prevent these issues from happening again, and how will they increase transparency? 

Ms. Dillman: I think the reality is that we can’t prevent students’ actions. We have to realize that this is a partnership between home and school. What happens on your phone is difficult to monitor. Especially if you’re not on a group chat or you’re not going to hand over your texts, [then] it’s just a rumor. And it’s difficult to search someone’s phone based on something like that. So we really need to rely on parents. If there is a concern that your child might have something explicit on their phone involving a minor, parents need to play a really important role in monitoring that. Because what the school can do, unfortunately, only goes so far if we don’t have an actual participant turning over their information. 

It’s really that partnership of [parents] willing to have that difficult conversation with their child of “I need to look through your phone” and being aware of all the apps that disguise themselves as different things but are places to have photos. I think it’s asking a lot for parents to monitor everything on your child’s social media, on their phones, in every communication [application]. It’s asking a lot, and it’s asking a lot for a school to monitor 3,000 kids, because of the efforts students go through to not get caught. Because usually when these things happen, it’s not [like], “Hey, check this out, I shared this really great video, take a look at it.” They’re usually extremely hidden from us, and when you only hear that someone shared pictures or videos of you and you don’t have proof, it’s hard to pursue. It’s really that partnership of telling us everything you know as soon as you know it, working with parents to help us as well, and the more we know the more we can do. 

Being transparent, that’s the part where I feel like no one’s going to be satisfied here, because we don’t get to tell you everything about the private lives of students. I think we have to remember that accusations don’t always turn into proof. And even when they do, even when we do uncover really sad and tragic situations, it’s really not appropriate to share that information with parents or students who were not involved. In a school of 3,000 people there are really sad things that happen to kids, really sad things. And we do everything we can to support them and keep that from their peers. Because it’s their story to tell. What happened this summer with the victim [who] came forward, that was her story to tell. No one else’s. When people are trying to tell other people’s stories, it doesn’t necessarily help the actual victim. 

Becky: So I guess bouncing off of that, it’s clear that we need a sort of trust and partnership between the administration and the students. Does the administration have any plans to address this lack of trust that’s been going around between these two parties? 

Ms. Dillman: Yeah, I personally have been meeting with small groups of students. Dr. Bhakta is forming our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion [Committee] which is helping to build trust between students [and the administration]. In my conversations with students we’ve talked a lot about what drives school culture, and how we can create a school culture that views reporting in a positive way. 

And here’s the toughest thing: it’s easy to say “I don’t report because I don’t trust the school,” but what I’ve found is that most students who report are afraid of their peers’ reaction, the social reaction from each other. And that’s a part of the culture we need to address, because I can do everything I can to build trust, but if a student is afraid that everyone in class in going to looking at them in a certain way, or their social media will blow up, that they’ll be criticized or yelled at in the halls… It’s going to be very hard. 

So it has to be a cultural change, and that includes the administration being transparent where appropriate, as supportive as possible, as communicative as possible. And changing our school culture to not being afraid of saying “Hey, that’s not cool” when we see small stuff, because small stuff turns into big stuff. 

Rebecca: That’s perfect. Within those [responses] you’ve answered a lot of the other questions that we were going to ask, like the education, your plans, the next months of adding this new protocol, and also, providing an environment where students are more comfortable. Although, we’ve noticed that sometimes these things go under a rug, like the Wellness Center drop-ins, where not a lot of students attended even though it was publicized in the back to school video. How is the district plan on making sure that these things are available to students, easily accessible, and even popular? 

Ms. Dillman: I think that is absolutely our work. I think when you try to create a new—like there’s a new person or school or new program at our school and nobody’s there, it’s really hard. But I also think that this is the perfect opportunity for us to build those programs, and we have a Wellness Center, and it’s right over here! There’s a couch there! And there’s coloring books! And you can de-stress! But no one else can go there yet. And it’s really hard to build trust with a counselor that you don’t know when you can’t meet them, and you can’t be with them. 

So this year, until we’re back in person, our job is to have Dr. Anderson available to do different outreach, have conversations—like the health and wellness [drop-ins]—be a face that people know. But until we’re back, it’s going to be hard. I think that—luckily through different feedback from students almost every student has at least one teacher, at least tenth through twelfth graders, that they trust. It’s probably a teacher, it could be a coach, some people trust a security guard, some people trust their club advisor. It really depends, but most people have somebody that they can go to. And it’s just our job to make sure we make our Wellness Center more visible, but it’s so new. And we’re just getting started. While I wish more people were seeking it out, more people seek out their individual counselors right now. 

Becky: Definitely. Okay so, you kind of already touched on this, but maybe you can elaborate more. We already know that news spreads extremely fast right now, especially on social media because we’re all right at home, it’s just really easy for things to just spread like wildfire. How does the administration plan to address potential false information in the future? 

Ms. Dillman: We’ve been dealing with it since the summer. Those things are on social media, there is so much truth there and then there’s so much other interpretation of that truth, and [people] applying it to their own situation. It was really hard to sift through to find out what had really happened. It was hard to find things that happened recently, let alone think about two years ago. 

It’s a challenge and I don’t have an answer. I don’t have an answer to the problematic parts of social media. If you do, please let me know. Because just like I said, it’s the victim’s story to tell. I’m not going to call a student a liar, I’m never going to do that, because when they tell their perspective of a story, that’s coming from a place and that’s not my place, that’s not my perspective. And we need to understand why we have different perspectives, not to name call or blame, but just to find out more and get to the bottom of it. 

And sometimes people have their—they’re really upset about a certain situation or circumstance that maybe they felt wasn’t handled well because they don’t have all the facts. And they’re judging the current situation through that lens. To me, the conversation is: “What gave you that lens? Let’s dig down on that, let’s get through it, let’s work through it.” 

When you have anonymous social media posts and emails from non-AUSD accounts  from people I don’t know, it’s tough, it’s harder. It doesn’t mean that we don’t face it. I think that we face what’s out there and we try to be honest where we can, and figure out the best way to communicate. And I don’t have all the answers right now. I just don’t. I think that we’re trying and I think right now I have so many ideas in my head about everything I’m learning from students and how we can create a more singular vision to address student’s needs. With that and the school closing, and distance learning, and a pandemic, it’s tough. It’s tough, and at the end of the day students’ safety is my number one concern; it’s way more important than student learning, and I’m a principal. We have to do everything we can to keep trying, until students feel like they have the support they need. 

Rebecca: I think that’s completely fair, it’s a work in progress and knowing that the district is taking the steps to learn, to listen, that’s enough. And it’s completely understandable with everything going on, [knowing] that this isn’t just another bump in the road. Not everything’s going to be perfect. Even when these resources are provided and things are monitored well. And that’s just understandable. 

Ms. Dillman: I think there are just things that—like how a school runs, sometimes things are easy and sometimes things are tough. And to me, I need to do this right. I need to listen, I need to address what’s out there. And I just feel this huge responsibility to make sure that kids are cared about and they’re safe. We’re getting there, we will have the training, we will have the health and wellness discussions, we will build up our Wellness Center so that people are flocking to it. I’m not saying it’s going to be this year, I think it’s going to take awhile for that to be up. But month by month, week by week, we’re going to grow and grow. 

Rebecca: Thank you so much. Becky, is there anything else you want to ask? 

Becky: Oh yeah. I guess there’s just one more question—very inspirational—Ms. Dillman, is there anything you would want to say to students who are hesitant to open up to the administration about any of their own experiences of misconduct? Is there anything else you want to say to them, really personally, what you would want them to hear in this situation? 

Ms. Dillman: I would want to tell them that the scariest thing is to talk about something that makes you feel vulnerable. The scariest thing is to ask for help. And it’s the only thing that’s going to save you. Every single administrator here, we’re actually pretty nice people. Find someone who you can relate to and talk to us.

I promise you, there are people [who] understand and know the importance of hearing your story. And for me, if you don’t get help, it can just… it can stay with you, and it can eat at you. Don’t rob yourself of a bright, happy future because no matter what you’ve been through, you can have it. You can have everything you want, and if you’re willing to take the risk of being vulnerable… It’s a scary leap of faith, but I promise you you’ll end up in a better place.  

 

Interview transcribed by Kate De Prima

Photo courtesy of AHS.AUSD.NET