Just as a high school valedictorian started talking about sexual assault at the school, her mic was cut off. Lulabel Seitz, in Petaluma, CA, had planned to discuss issues of students, including herself, being silenced after reporting incidents of sexual misconduct. The school administration warned her to avoid the topic in her speech: “For weeks, they have threatened me against ‘speaking against them’ in my speech. Sometimes we know what’s right and have to do it despite the threats.”
When the time came for her speech, Seitz said, “Because the class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again that we may be a new generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream and to create change, which is why even when some people on this campus, those some people..." And then there was silence from the podium as her classmates cheered her on: "Let her speak."
She did continue, on YouTube, where she uploaded her complete speech and the ending to her sentence: “And even learning on a campus in which some people defend perpetrators of sexual assault, and silence their victims, we didn’t let that drag us down.”
This story exemplifies the Streisand Effect, which The Economist describes as demonstrating "how efforts to suppress a juicy piece of online information can backfire and end up making things worse for the would-be censor." The Effect was named when performer Barbra Streisand sued the California Coastal Records Project for including pictures of her Malibu house. The suit was considered frivolous, and photos of the home went viral, giving Streisand far more attention than she would have otherwise received from the Coastal Project.
In the case of the high school student, the administration silenced her during the ceremony, but her YouTube video, as of this writing, received almost 230,000 views, far more than the number of people who attended graduation. Also, now the school's handling of sexual misconduct situations is on full display.
The school responded with a short statement:
"Administrators and staff in Petaluma City Schools care deeply about the safety and well being of our students. Due to student privacy issues, we cannot and should not respond with specific information. We can say that when issues of sexual assault come to our attention, local law enforcement has initial jurisdiction and determines the course of action."
- What, if anything, should the school administrators have done differently before Seitz's speech?
- What is Seitz's responsibility? Should she have avoided discussion of sexual assault, as she was instructed by school officials?
- What else should school officials say now? How can they repair the district's image and address issues raised?
- How is this an issue of integrity for the school and for Seitz?