In eighth grade, a group of boys told me, like many of my peers, that I only got good grades in geometry because I would stay after school and measure the circumference of my teacher's penis with my mouth.
They would walk up to other boys in the class and tell them that I wanted to have sex with them. My face would often turn red and I would tell them their actions were not appreciated, but to no avail.
This was all happening against the backdrop of having had my house broken into while I was home alone with my younger sister. I was dealing with severe PTSD and school was already a struggle. Somehow, the boys had found out about this and started to tell everyone that the person who broke into my house had also raped me, and now I was pregnant.
I missed three weeks of school in the eighth grade because the anxiety from going there was so debilitating. I felt as though I was left with no choice but to stay home.
When I reported the boys, all the school did was call their parents and threaten to take more serious action if they did not stop. I still had to be in classes with them. I was shunned by many in my grade for having spoken up about their harassment. I was told by the administration to not talk about it, but the boys were given no such instructions. My teachers were also unprepared to mitigate the effects of this situation in my classes and in fact even minimized the seriousness of it.
Sadly, there are many stories like mine across the state of Minnesota. Eighth grade was just the beginning. My peers' butts are groped in hallways; they are sexually assaulted in school bathrooms; they are humiliated with body-shaming dress codes, and they are subject to racialized sexual harassment in which Muslim girls' hijabs are pulled off their heads.
To channel our frustration and make positive change, a group of female students approached the Legislature to advocate for funding for the Minnesota Department of Education to hire a statewide Title IX coordinator. This person would provide technical assistance and training for public school administrators across our state, many of whom have worked with us to advocate for this bill.
We were hopeful that our rights as public school students would be honored, as those of college students are honored. When the Office of Higher Education has a statewide Title IX coordinator to protect students from sexual discrimination, why must public school students suffer from the lack of one? Our bill had bipartisan and bicameral support. In "Schoolhouse Rock" terms, we were set up for a successful run at the Legislature.
Then came this week. We were told that "no policy would be included in the K-12 education omnibus bill." That means no additional protections for students who are being sexually harassed at school. It means another young woman will experience the agony that I did. One-quarter of female ninth-graders in Minnesota report that they were sexually harassed at least once within the past 30 days, as we had stated in our testimony to the Legislature.
As a graduating senior, I am frustrated that students have been pushed away from the decisionmaking table. We have been brought to the Capitol to pose for pictures with legislators, and those photos have been used in campaign literature, only to find we are being pushed out of the room where the decisions about our education are being made. We were hopeful that we would be the last senior class of students who graduated not knowing that Title IX protected us from sexual violence in school.
What happened to #TimesUp? Why must we be forced to wait another year for our legislators to enact policy that will protect our right to an education free from sexual discrimination? We, the senior class of 2019, were hopeful that our legislators would enact policy so that when our younger sisters walked the hallways in high school their butts would not be groped, their hijabs would not be pulled off and their bodies would not be subjected to public humiliation from their peers.
Inaction is negligence. Inaction is complicity. Inaction silences.
We are disappointed, but we will not be silenced.
Jessica Melnik is a senior at Hopkins High School and executive director of Girls United MN.