For the past eight years, I've had the privilege of being part of the Young Artists and Writers Project (YAWP), at Stony Brook Southampton College.
"The YAWP Playwriting Program introduces middle and high school students to the elements of dramatic writing. Using a curriculum inspired by Aristotle's Poetics, teaching artists guide students through a series of written and improvisational exercises to develop ideas, characters, themes and dialogue, assisting each student in the discovery and celebration of their unique perspective and creative voice."
At the end of the program, every student has completed a short play, and one play from each class is selected to be performed at Stony Brook Southampton's Avram Theater, and staged by a professional director.
That's where I come in.
I'm hired to direct one of the selected plays for the festival.
The high school festival just passed, and once again, I'm blown away by the talent, spirit, and creativity of these high school students.
Their wisdom is palpable. Their thirst for knowledge, unquenchable. And, more than anything, they seek to make this world better by using their creativity and their gifts.
It's an educational and artistic dream.
This year, I couldn't help but notice that there were two plays about rape.
Not one, but two.
Two plays about rape, from two entirely different schools in glaringly different neighborhoods, and both of the protagonists were females who felt like they couldn't talk to anyone. They felt like nobody would listen. And then, they just stopped speaking altogether.
It was jarring, it was heartbreaking, and, quite frankly, I can't get it out of my head.
Why was this a pressing topic on the hearts of these kids? Where have we, as adults, failed them?
Sexual assault is not something to sweep under the rug, and keep in the darkest corners of our memories.
I can't help but remember a time when I worked at a school wherein I was directing a piece of dramatic literature that had the word rape in it.
I got in trouble for exposing my former students to the script - and the superintendent ordered me to remove it.
My students, ever the courageous bunch, rallied against the censorship.
No, they said.
We won't stand for this.
Removing the word rape is a non negotiable.
One student's outcry will forever be burned in my brain. He stood up against the superintendent, and said I am a boyfriend, son, brother, friend - I am horrified that we'd try to silence this word. This is a school. There are people who have been raped here. How can we expect them to seek solace and counseling if we are doing things like removing the word rape from our vocabulary?
The superintendent agreed.
The word rape would stay.
I wish things like rape weren't part of our lives. Our society. But, wishing it away does not make it disappear.
Rape is a horrible thing. A despicable act. An occurrence that leaves its victims forever changed.
As adults, I believe that it's our responsibility to teach our students about rape. What it means. What doesn't mean. And how to get help when it happens.
As educators and artists, I believe that it's our responsibility to help victims of rape feel as though they have a safe place to go - for such a horrible act can often silence the strongest of voices, but, it's a warm and welcoming educational setting that can help those find the strength they need to break their silence.