‘I was relentlessly harassed’: Oregon High students start website highlighting bullying, discrimination, assault stories
OREGON, Wis. — An Oregon High School senior who has shared her story of sexual assault in the past has now launched a website with another freshman, designed for other students in the district to share their accounts of bullying, harassment, assault, and discrimination. Since launching just over a week ago, more than a dozen students have shared stories of bullying, discrimination, or assault.
“There’s some specific stories that are very heartbreaking to hear,” Bry Oppliger said in an interview.
Oppliger got the idea when she watched a similar video posted months after her story of assault first went locally viral. This one was from a transgender high school freshman, Owen Dewbre, who recounted how he had been harassed and discriminated against in the district after coming out, starting in middle school in the Oregon School District.
Dewbre, who signed on to help Oppliger as a site cofounder after it launched, said he felt school administration hadn’t properly handled his complaints.
“When I first came out as a transgender male, I was relentlessly harassed by students and assaulted by students,” Dewbre said in an interview. “Nothing was done by administration.”
Students recount discrimination, bullying, assault
“I realized it’s not just me,” Oppliger said of the moment she heard Dewbre’s story. “There’s so many other people who felt taken advantage of by the school, and I just wanted to give students an outlet to share their stories.”
Fifteen other students in addition to Oppliger and Dewbre–some identifying themselves, some anonymously–have now had their stories of harassment, discrimination and bullying published on Oppliger’s site. Stories aren’t published automatically; forms or videos are submitted only to Bry who reviews them and posts them to the site.
For those who chose not to identify themselves, Bry says the level of specific details victims provide helps her distinguish between others who might try to troll the site with false accounts. The site also provides links to local resources for mental health and educational awareness, and both students are still building it into a platform to help other students.
While some high school students have reacted positively to the website, others have submitted entries to the site mocking the stories of those who had been published, Oppliger said.
“I know they were joking but that’s not something you should be joking about,” Oppliger said. “You cannot joke about someone else’s trauma; that’s just not okay.”
Most of those who have submitted published stories are high school students (a few are in middle school), and many said they felt their complaints had been largely ignored by school administrators. A couple students referenced suicide attempts or other forms of harming themselves.
“Throughout the past couple years I’ve been faced with death threats, tagged in KKK posts, have been sent videos of black dolls hanging from trees,” one student of color wrote*. “I’ve been told my life doesn’t matter, I’ve had many slave jokes told to me, and have been called slurs consistently. Many of these administration have known about, but instead of giving these people consequences, I’ve had to be removed out of MY classes and forced to work in student services.”
Another transgender student said he felt students didn’t have appropriate education in rape, assault, or gender/sexual identity. “The amount of times I’ve been called slurs in school and on the bus. I should be able to feel comfortable using the mens restroom, but I don’t,” he wrote.
Another student who identified themselves as masc non-binary and gay felt similarly. “I was bullied and harassed. The school knew and they did nothing.”
The Oregon School District didn’t provide an interview to discuss how they’re handling student complaints of discrimination, but sent a statement saying they quickly and thoroughly investigate reports of harmful student conduct, using school consequences and referrals to the appropriate authorities. Legal and ethical privacy concerns means that the district can’t comment on specific complaints–whether to media outlets or to other students who may wish to know how their complaint is being handled.
“We wish we could share all of the actions we take to address these concerns, but legally we cannot,” district spokesperson Erika Mundinger wrote in an email. “We know that the pain students carry with them after experiencing any traumatic event can have lasting impacts. Our District has caring and responsive educators, and a network of external resources available to help our students.”
Additionally, Mundinger noted that the high school superintendent’s student advisory council gives students access to directly share concerns and solutions for working together with the school’s highest-level administrator.
“We strongly urge any student who is struggling or has concerns to reach out to a trusted adult so we can help them access resources and support. We also encourage families to visit OregonSD.org/talk for resources on how to have discussions with students on a variety of topics,” Mundinger wrote.
Dewbre and Oppliger haven’t heard from school administrators since launching the website, they said. Dewbre noted he had a meeting with school officials a few weeks ago that he didn’t feel satisfactorily addressed his concerns or complaints.
*News 3 Now is not naming the website or students who identified themselves on the website, as it is our policy not to name victims unless given direct permission by the victim.
Photojournalist Brian Mesmer contributed to this report.
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