Discussions On Gender Unfolds At Poly

Community members voice concerns in school and online about being a women on campus


A screenshot from the Women at Poly Instagram account.

This story has been updated to include a quote from Head of Upper School Sarah Bates responding to one of the Women at Poly Instagram posts.

The Women’s Affinity group’s first meetings of the year have sparked a series of informative discussions regarding experiences of sexual harassment and assault faced by women at Poly Prep. 

Women’s Affinity initially meant to meet in a classroom during DEIB block. However, as the meeting attracted many more students than even predicted—over 100 members—faculty advisors Jenna Peet and Virginia Dillon moved the group to the theater. The advisors sat on the stage facing students as they piled in, filling nearly every seat in the front section. 

“One of our goals with the Women’s Affinity group is to provide a space for women and girls on campus to share their stories and experiences,” said Dr. Dillon. “But even more than that, we want to encourage a sense of community. We hope the students who attend feel both their own individual strength and their collective power.”

“After the first few girls spoke, hands began shooting up and 

many felt comfortable speaking their minds and telling about their experiences,” said senior Beatrice McMurray. “The energy was safe and welcoming, and the conversations cathartic. Some shared personal stories about what they go through as women and others spoke on the culture surrounding the treatment of women in the Poly community.”

Since the meeting, women of Poly have come together both in-person and online to share the traumatizing and seemingly all-too-common stories of sexual harassment, assault, and discomfort as women in the Poly community. 

“Poly has a problem. Everyone knows it. We want to empower women and disrupt the culture at Poly that allows for the constant harassment and mistreatment of the women in our community,” said McMurray. “My hope is that the work we do this year will empower the younger girls coming into the Upper School and those in the group this year to know their worth and fight for themselves and those around them.”

Multiple anonymous community members took to a newly-created Instagram account, @womenatpolyprep—which later was updated to @womxnatpolyprep—to express the experience of being targets of sexual harassment, including unwanted touching and sexual advances from students and faculty over the years. 

“Why don’t I feel safe going to school? Why do I attend the same classes as known sexual predators? Why do I have to sit and listen to my friends share their stories but not have the power to help?” wrote one anonymous student. Another shared, “I feel constantly self-conscious of my body at Poly Prep. The boys have insane standards for female beauty and judge everyone accordingly.”

“There are no ‘known sexual predators’ at Poly, to the knowledge of the faculty and administration,” said Head of Upper School Sarah Bates in an email to the Polygon, noting that every adult in the Poly community is a mandated reporter. “In my three years as a division head, no information has come forward that would constitute a Mandated Report. We want students to share with us—if we know about something, we always investigate.”

Bates says the administration is listening. In an email to students on October 15 titled “We Are Here To Support You,” Bates wrote, “It is deeply painful for us to learn of boys sexually objectifying, intimidating, or groping girls. These stories are your stories to share and I am grateful to you for including me in the conversations. It is essential to us that our students feel they are heard, honored, respected, believed, and safe at our school. And if we fall short of this promise, we want to take action.” 

Bates had previously acknowledged the struggles many women at Poly face and challenged the community to find a path forward in a letter to Upper School families on Oct. 8. “How do we support and encourage our girls to be confident, self-assured, and happy to embrace who they are?” she wrote. “How do we educate our boys, at all times and in all places, to be compassionate and empathetic, and to treat girls with respect and dignity?” 

After Bates’s message to students, faculty and deans sent follow-up email messages of support. Dean Douglas Wong wrote, “my door is figuratively and literally always open.” 

“Personally, I find it shameful that our students have had the experiences they’ve shared both in person and on social media. While we cannot control the outside world, it’s important that every student has physical and psychological safety while they’re on campus,” said Bates in a later interview. “I do hope that the consistent reassurance both in writing and in person has allowed students to understand how seriously I take these issues.” 

In her email to students, Bates also posted a link to guidelines on the Upper School Student Portal on how to share incidents or concerns. Bates echoed, “Whether something happened five years ago, involved someone who’s no longer here, or was an experience outside of Poly, we want to know. I will continue to be here to listen and support and make changes at Poly.” 

If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault you can call the National Harassment Hotline at (855)-897-5910 or reach out to fellow students, parents, faculty, deans, administrators, nurses, counselors, and anyone you feel comfortable talking to.