All-boys Moeller High School is spending this year discussing sexual violence and respect for women

Timely topic was chosen last spring

With headlines dominated lately by sexual assault on college campuses -- and a presidential candidate caught on tape bragging about groping women -- both parents and educators might be wondering how to address this subject matter with teens.

One local all-boys Catholic high school -- Moeller High -- is well ahead of the curve.

Each spring, Moeller faculty and staff choose a topic as an interdisciplinary theme for the following school year.

This year's topic? Respect for women.

By approaching the topic of gender equality as a whole school, students will hear from speakers during all-school events and will tackle the subject through in-depth discussion and projects within their classrooms.

There are three main areas of focus for the year, said Michael Shaffer, the Moeller teacher who is coordinating the broader, all-school events related to gender equality. Shaffer said he hopes students will gain a greater awareness of the oppression of women globally, the unequal treatment of women in the United States and the impact of sexual violence.

"Our goal, with all 900 of our boys, is to educate them about sexual violence -- what it is, and what they can do to prevent it and be more sensitive and more aware of it preemptively, hopefully before they are in those types of scenarios," Shaffer said.

As a start to the yearlong program, the entire student body was required over the summer to read "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban," by Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani advocate for education and the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Class discussions followed.

Two speakers have addressed the students at the Kenwood school already this year, including Beatrice Okullooyere, a Ugandan education advocate and program director for Unified for Uganda. On Oct. 4, James McKenna, an anthropology professor from the University of Notre Dame spoke to students and parents during an evening lecture regarding the history of gender inequality and how addressing the tensions men and women face when communicating with each other, personally and professionally, can help close the gap.

Plans for the rest of the school year include a presentation from student leaders of Xavier Students Against Sexual Assault about how to identify sexual assault, its negative effects and what students should do if they witness it. Several female teachers from Moeller will conduct a panel discussion about their experiences as women in business and engineering.

Moeller is also partnering with nearby Mount Notre Dame, an all-girls high school in Reading. Each school will send a student panel to the other to answer questions and discuss their perspectives.

"In partnering with Mount Notre Dame, we are trying to open up more of a line of communication," Shaffer said. "One of our goals is for our male students to hear what their female peers are saying, feeling and experiencing."

Senior Luke Bowles said it's easy to be unaware of the plight of women in the world when it isn't part of your everyday experience.

"We have these different themes every year, and this one is maybe the most relevant to our everyday lives, and it may be the most important as well," Bowles said.

The classroom assignments and discussions that the gender-equality topic is inspiring are perhaps the most impactful to the students.

In Bowles' English class, for example, small groups of students were tasked with researching and presenting about an area where women are mistreated: Iran, Somalia, and a religious sect in Utah. Bowles' group studied the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and was so moved by what he learned that he wrote to that area's local member of Congress to raise awareness of the treatment of the women there.

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