ASCA 18 Reflections: Tarana Burke
The American School Counselor Association achieved an amazing feat when they invited Tarana Burke to our annual conference to give a speech about the #MeToo movement. On the last day of the conference, Tarana graced the stage to a standing ovation by school counselors. Burke began her speech by sharing her heartfelt beliefs about school counselors. Through her work as a social justice advocate and sexual violence activist, Burke described past events that led her to the office of many a school counselor in New York City. She gave thanks to her own school counselor who helped her discover the organization she later came to lead. Burke kept the audience engaged, full of laughter and deeply introspective. She recalled a teenage student who sought her leadership.
As a young adult, Burke mentored many students and this student, in particular, came to Burke with a secret. The teenage student disclosed sexual assault in her past. While struggling with her own history of sexual abuse, Burke responded to the student by telling the girl to talk to someone else. In retrospect, Burke was ashamed of this response and vowed to dedicate her life to healing and helping others heal. The resounding theme of community partnership was present. Burke called on school counselors to change the culture of abuse in our nation. She urged school counselors to not only receive the appropriate training in responding to sexual assault but she urged counselors to fully understand the impact of sexual abuse on the lives of our students.
Part of this understanding includes disciplinary practices within our buildings. Burke described advocating for students whose behavior, directly related to abuse, prevented them from getting the help they needed because they were constantly being referred to the disciplinarian. Additionally, the school and community must be intentional about prevention which includes knowledge of sexually inappropriate behaviors, consent, boundaries and an anti-abuse culture which starts as early as kindergarten. Burke shared statistics about middle school girls as a primary time when sexual abuse can occur but of course, it can happen to anyone at any time. She also mentioned the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses. Inspiring in every sentence she spoke, Burke called on school counselors to be aggressive in tackling the epidemic of sexual violence. She assured us that abuse is not just another area of counseling in which we need PD. She called on us to incorporate into our practice, into our values, into our lessons, into our lives an anti-sexual abuse perspective. She assured us that the only way to end sexual violence is to constantly interrupt it.