Meet the Bethesda student who exposed her high school’s allegedly toxic annual dance

When Eliana Joftus, a junior at Walt Whitman High School, wrote an op-ed in her student newspaper calling for the cancellation of the school’s annual charity dance, she hadn’t expected the call to be answered. But less than a day after his article was published this week – it alleged a culture of sexual abuse and drug use – Whitman’s principal, Robert Dodd, sent a letter to the school community announcing that the dance and the fundraiser (called “Vike-a-Thon” in reference to the school’s Viking mascot) would be cancelled.

In the letter, Dodd specifically quotes the Joftus article, “It’s 10 years too. The Vike-A-Thon is from “ which features intimate conversations with students who say they were sexually assaulted at the dance. Evoking the dance’s ‘rave’ atmosphere, Joftus also describes instances of heavy drug and alcohol use as well as a phenomenon known as ‘cycling’, in which students connect with at least one person. of each level. “While organizers advertise the event as lighthearted and fun, the appeal of the event is rooted in a toxic atmosphere,” she wrote. “One who is ripe for sexual abuse, particularly involving exploitative power dynamics between the upper classes and the lower classes.”

Still dealing with the sudden media attention—FOX 5DC, Bethesda Magazineand WUSA9 all reported on her article – Joftus, 16, shares what writing the op-ed meant to her and what her peers’ comments were like.

Were you nervous posting the story?

For a while there were many doubts. I didn’t know if people would blame me for trying to undo a long-standing tradition at my school or if people would make more about me as a person besides the story itself… I have in actually considered writing it anonymously. In the end, I’m really happy to have put my name there. I’m really proud of it.

Did you expect that this piece attracts so much attention it has?

I really expected a lot of people to read it and a lot of people to care about it, either negatively or positively. But I didn’t expect the sudden media coverage. People outside my school and outside the county care about this story and it’s something I didn’t expect.

Your father, Scott Joftus, is a member of the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education. [MCPS]. Did his position influence you in any way?

He was very, very supportive. But that was another hesitation – with my dad in that role and with my mom being involved with MCPS and the education community, it was definitely something I couldn’t just think about myself. I also had to think if things got more serious and if I was sued, because I involved my parents who are very involved in the community.

But it’s really overwhelming positive support from everyone, which is super nice. And having that perspective from my dad, as a leader in Montgomery County, helped me understand how I wanted to talk about these issues without disrespecting anyone’s hard work. Because, you know, it’s really not my school administration’s fault. It was really just behavior that was unknowingly enforced by this event. And I think after talking to my principal, it was clear that unfortunately none of this behavior was reported because it was so normalized.

What were the reactions of your peers and the community at large? Rather positive or negative?

A lot of people messaged me with really, really positive comments about how, “You’re so brave to say that when no one else would say it.” And while that’s very flattering, it’s just a shame it took so long. I hope other people can learn from this. It shouldn’t be such a brave statement to point out something that is literally illegal on school property. I know it’s scary, and it’s been scary for me – there’s been negativity and backlash against what I’m saying – but the positivity and support definitely outweighs that negativity.

Sexual assault is such a delicate subject to discuss. How did you go through these interviews?

I write a lot of articles of opinion, so I interviewed a lot of people, but these are definitely the toughest interviews emotionally I had to do. … These people trusted me with really serious stories with trauma that affected them. . I talked to someone who is a freshman at the university, who still remembers the story of his first year of high school and it was still affected to date.

Is he more important ramifications you hope that this story?

I’m sure in other high schools across the country, around the world, there are these issues. And I hope that if [this piece] gets more exposure outside of that area, if schools outside of ours have similar environments, environments very close to nightclubs. Then they can look and say, “Okay, what kind of environment are we creating for our students? »

About Rachel Gooch

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