Just from spotting her around the CCHS campus, it’s clear to see that sophomore Amelia Wesley is not your run-of-the-mill high school student. From her witty shirts to her passionate discussions about criminal justice, Wesley has made a name for herself by standing out. It’s no surprise that Wesley refuses to stand the issue of sexual assault.
Though it has been in the works since the end of the 2016-17 school year, Students Against Sexual Assault is a club new to CCHS. The goal of the club is to inform people at a young age about the significance of the issue and how to prevent it.
“On college campuses, it is such a huge problem. We aren’t really educating against it until people are in college and, by that point, it’s probably too late,” Wesley explained. “Starting as early as high school, I think it would be beneficial to talk to people [about it.]”
According to RAINN, females between 16 and 19 years old are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault than any other demographic. This dire fact affects numerous people across the country. Wesley’s inspiration for starting the club began with hearing about her own cousin’s experience.
“My cousin was roofied in her college,” Wesley said. “She said she was going to drop out after that.”
Although this experience was not her own, Wesley has witnessed the “rape culture” that is perpetuated in society. She emphasizes that the social attitudes that normalize sexual assault leave lasting impacts on the thinking of individuals. The toxicity of the problem is evident even in high schools.
“I think [rape culture] is a problem everywhere,” Wesley said. “[The dress code] is telling girls that they are distractions for things like their shoulders, which are not sexual objects.”
Wesley decided to raise awareness for the prevalent topic of sexual assault through starting the club. Melissa Cabrera, a ninth grade English teacher, is the faculty sponsor of Students Against Sexual Assault as well as the LGBT+ club. Wesley met Cabrera when she joined the LGBT+ club last school year.
“I came out to my friends before the start of freshman year,” Wesley said. “My friends convinced me to join LGBT+ club and then I got really involved with the community.”
Cabrera’s advocacy for underrepresented groups has served as a source of encouragement for Wesley to pursue the topics she is passionate about. Now, Wesley is an officer for the LGBT+ club and has been recognized by Cabrera for her maturity and dedication.
“Amelia is very unique. I don’t think I’ve met [another] child that can ‘adult’ better than I can,” Ms. Cabrera said. “It’s empowering to see such a young person be so smart, well-oriented and balanced.”
Students Against Sexual Assault is scheduled to meet every other Thursday in Ms. Cabrera’s classroom. The club will hold officer elections and plans to begin projects shortly. Wesley has big plans for SASA’s effect on CCHS students, but her hopes for the impact of the club do not end at the boundaries of campus.
“We have a goal to be a non profit organization by the end of my high school career,” Wesley said.
Such an ambitious plan needs supporters and Wesley prides herself on having some as far as Middletown, Connecticut. One notable member of Wesley’s family to show commitment to SASA is her older sister, Madeline, who currently attends Wesleyan University. Madeline shares Wesley’s drive and plans to expand the influence of the club.
“[My sister] is trying to get involved with the club at her school,” Wesley said. “She is going to work with her school’s organizations to help people [create] nonprofits.”
Other backers of Wesley’s mission are her friends and classmates at CCHS. Those who have heard about Students Against Sexual Assault have expressed support for the objectives of the club. Many plan to join and even run for officer positions.
“I’m so happy that she’s finally able to do this. She’s been really passionate about these issues and this is a big part of her belief system,” close friend and sophomore Melody Wood said. “Her founding of the club is great because she’s probably the [student] that knows the most about this.”
Wood is not only Wesley’s friend but her competition, too. Both are running for president of Students Against Sexual Assault. This unusual twist is highly indicative of Wesley’s values. From the beginning of the club’s inception, it was important to Wesley that all members have a voice. She included in the bylaws of SASA that all positions are to be acquired through an election process. Though this could potentially hurt Wesley, she appreciates the opportunity for members to choose the club president.
“If people absolutely hate me, then they can vote me out,” Wesley joked. “I think democracy is important.”
Just like Wesley’s proposed structure for the club is not solely for her benefit, her concern for social issues is not exclusive to sexual assault. After seeing a seminar on the prison education system while visiting her sister’s college, she developed an interest in the topic. When Wesley researched American prisons, she discovered the startling trends of abuse of power and wealth that occur within the establishments. Wesley plans to pursue the study of criminal justice in college.
“I want to do something about reforming the criminal justice system,” Wesley said. “Right now, mass incarceration and the privatization of prisons is a huge issue. It leaves room for groups to be oppressed by big corporations.”
No matter what Wesley plans to do later in life, it is clear that she is already making her mark on the lives of others. Amid the chaotic scenes of high school drama and daunting deadlines, she has set her sights on creating a better society. Whether that be through educating others on sexual assault or demanding better treatment of prison inmates, Wesley will undoubtedly continue to provide a voice to those whose shouts are lost among the white noise.
Photo by Casey Chapter