Oct. 26, 2018

Last week, Indianapolis Public Schools amended its Title IX policy to address sexual discrimination, harassment and teen dating abuse. The amendments were brought to the district by Maria De Leon, a 2018 graduate of Crispus Attucks High School.

When I first met Maria during her freshman year, there was no doubt this hard-working, determined student exhibited natural leadership qualities. She is the kind of student who leads by example. She empowers her peers to find confidence in their own voice.

I had lunch with Maria over fall break to learn about the policy proposal and her hopes for its implementation.

Early on in high school, Maria became involved in Crispus Attucks’ No More Club. She learned about teen dating violence and unhealthy relationships. Administrators and peers shared personal stories, and the club worked with the Domestic Violence Network to provide additional learning experiences.

“I didn’t even know these were issues anyone could experience until I started becoming more aware” she said.

Alex Stewart
Maria began noticing those issues in her own environments. She observed many unhealthy relationships in her school, yet no one knew how to address it. The youth program director for the Domestic Violence Network, Lindsay Stawick, invited Maria to become more involved, and she worked to raise awareness about teen dating abuse.

As Maria started her senior year, she wanted to do more. She wanted to take action.

“I was about to graduate. I wanted to make sure I left something behind,” said Maria. “I wasn’t sure if anyone at our school was as passionate about the issue as I was.” Maria talked to Stawick about an action piece. Stawick directed Maria to look into policies to address the issue.

During her senior year, Maria sat on the IPS Superintendent’s Student Advisory Board, where she presented research and recent studies on teen dating violence and sexual harassment in schools to Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee. This lead to a collaboration between Maria, Lindsay and IPS district representatives to find resources to develop a policy that could be implemented in schools.

“I wanted the policy to enable students to educate their own peers and become empowered to speak out and trust the adults within their high school and middle school.”

She didn’t just want to educate them about unhealthy relationships and what teen dating violence was, but to also make them aware of their rights under an updated Title IX policy.

The updated policy includes initiatives to address teen dating abuse in both high schools and middle schools, including ways to report anonymously on school websites. The policy creates an appointed Teen Dating Abuse Advocate for all middle and high schools who serves as the primary resource for students experiencing teen dating abuse. The advocate will additionally share literature within middle and high schools from the Domestic Violence Network.

As part of this initiative, Harshman Middle School is piloting a program called Youth Cat (Youth Cognitive Accountability) in the 2018-19 school year. The program uses metacognitive activities to improve moral reasoning and develop accountability for choice and actions. Participating students will be referred to the program in an attempt to correct wrong patterns of behavior and belief systems.

Another program under the new Title IX policy initiative is a partnership with Coaching Boys Into Men, a “prevention program that trains and motivates high school coaches to teach their young male athletes healthy relationship skills and that violence never equals strength.” Throughout the season, coaches will lead players through weekly activities that address themes such as personal responsibility and relationship abuse.

I asked Maria about her hopes for the policy’s implementation.

“I want the district to actually promote it and share it. I don’t want it to be just another set of guidelines in the handbook.”

Maria exercised leadership that was inspirational and transformative, by wanting to empower individuals. Now in her freshman year at Butler University, Maria hopes to continue to be an agent of change within her community.