Students at Boulder’s Fairview High School walked out Friday to show support for survivors of sexual violence, two days after a former student was acquitted in a sex assault trial.
At 11 a.m. hundreds of students, most of them dressed in black to show solidarity with survivors, streamed out of the school and walked to the football field. There, they observed five minutes of silence in honor of survivors before several speakers, including Dr. Janine D’Anniballe, the director of Boulder’s Moving to End Sexual Assault.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and D’Anniballe said one challenge has always stood in the way of seeking justice for victims of sexual violence.
“That challenge rests in this fundamental issue of not believing survivors,” she said. “Here we are in 2021, facing that same challenge.”
D’Anniballe said institutions needed to fix what is too often “this culture of disbelief.”
“If we are going to change the culture, move from a rape culture to a culture of consent, a culture of safety, it starts by believing,” she said.
While none of the speakers mentioned him by name, former Fairview High student Aidan Atkinson’s case hung heavy over Friday’s walkout.
Even as the speakers addressed the crowd, a maintenance worker could be seen behind them cleaning off a building where someone had painted, “Aidan is guilty,” a message that officials said had been painted in several spots around campus.
Prosecutors had alleged Atkinson sexually assaulted one Fairview student and attempted to assault another while they were on a party bus celebrating homecoming in 2018, but a jury on Wednesday found Atkinson not guilty on two counts of sexual assault, one count of attempted sexual assault and two counts of unlawful sexual contact.
The jury was unable to return unanimous verdicts on two counts of unlawful sexual contact, while Atkinson also has a pending sexual exploitation case later this month.
Beatriz Sanchez, who graduated from Fairview last year and who is one of the cofounders of BVSD Survivors, called out her former school while addressing the crowd.
“Fairview has failed massively,” Sanchez said. “It has continued to fail through inaction, lies and empty promises.”
BVSD Survivors asked students to sign a list of demands, including asking the district for more consent and Title IX rights education.
“Today our focus was on our students and listening to what they had to say on this important topic,” Boulder Valley spokesman Randy Barber said Friday. “The district has been working closely with current and former Fairview students in addressing concerns around sexual violence prevention. We have made some significant progress, updating policies, providing resources and offering training for our staff, parents and students.”
Barber noted Boulder Valley Superintendent Rob Anderson also sent out a letter to parents about sexual violence last week.
“We want you to know that the Boulder Valley School District takes sexual violence seriously,” Anderson wrote. “Sexual violence affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year and, unfortunately, Boulder Valley is not immune.”
Fairview senior Amelia DiGiano remembers the day Atkinson was arrested that school officials seemed more concerned with the impact to the upcoming football game rather than showing support for the named victims in the case.
“It just showed they didn’t care about the girls,” DiGiano said. “It just perpetuates the cycle.”
Fellow senior Anna Luna Grant said that is why she felt it was so important for survivors to see how much support they had from classmates as they all stood on the field Friday.
“Having the physical impact of everybody together was powerful,” she said.
Students from other schools attended to show their support. Azilee Ball, a student at Watershed in Boulder, is a survivor herself and joined the Fairview students on the field Friday.
“I felt it was important to show support for those who didn’t get the support that I did,” Ball said. “Everyone coming together like this is a beautiful thing to see.”
But while the walkout served as a gesture of support and awareness for victims, DiGiano said Fairview and other institutions needed to take actual steps toward providing support for survivors.
“It didn’t solve anything yet,” she said.
Resources for victims of sexual violence
Moving to End Sexual Assault hotline: 303-443-7300 or text BRAVE to 20121.
Boulder Valley School District: Support for students: bvsd.org/parents-students/student-help