“Toga is dead and we need to move on,” said Mr. Coscarelli to Santa Rosa High School’s Student Government. The two parties have met multiple times throughout the year to discuss the impending future of the Toga Dance.
For years, the Toga Dance has been a beloved and anticipated tradition at Santa Rosa High School. Incoming freshmen hear stories of the club-like environment, and, for many, Toga is their first exposure to the glorified party lifestyle that stereotypically accompanies the high school experience. But for some, Toga embodies the fear and anxiety that is too often experienced during the first years of high school. The inappropriate groping and nonconsensual touching has been ignored because of its uncomfortable nature, but this problem will only be brushed under the carpet for more years to come if action is not taken. This toxic, mature environment serves as the foundation of the dance, and administrators have come to realize that this should not be associated with a public school.
Toga was not your parents’ high school experience. Gone are the days of sock hops and swing dances only to be replaced by this twenty-first century vision of a “dance” that has more to do with dark rooms and scantily clad bodies than upbeat music and innocent dance moves. As progressive and welcoming as Santa Rosa High School claims to be, this dance has left many voiceless and uncomfortable.
“I wish people knew that there are victims here,” said an anonymous student who experienced sexual assault firsthand at the dance. “This dance shouldn’t have happened, and this kind of environment shouldn’t exist at a school where everyone thinks it’s safe. It doesn’t make you feel comfortable to go to a school that has a really [safe and progressive] reputation.” Because of the toxic attitude many have towards victims, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, only 30% of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities nationally. As a progressive school, we need to listen to those who are advocating for themselves, and make the choice to take action, rather than simply sit back and allow the 70% to pass by right before our eyes.
Now has come the time to make our small change in the world; it is our time to decide what “fun” will look like, and if that word will be welcoming and inclusive to all students. If this definition of “fun” hurts students, we highly encourage the school Administration and Student Government to stick with the decision to do away with the Toga dance and the pervasive, harmful culture that accompanies it.
A variety of solutions have been proposed, but many of them do nothing to address the origin of the problem. More lighting, less hip hop music, and dress code penalties will not make this deep rooted rape culture disappear from Santa Rosa High School unless students decide to realize the disgusting nature of sexual assault and make the decision to change their behaviors. If the student body doesn’t come to a general consensus to leave the harmful culture of Toga behind, this replacement dance will only be treated as a new Toga. Student Government must have a united front as there will be questions about this dance, and students will wrongly place the blame on their representative peers. “This new dance would have to [discourage] actions, [such as certain types of dancing], and there is definitely going to be a lot of [back]lash because of that…,” said the anonymous student. As models of the future of Santa Rosa High School dances, change needs to be initiated by those that have the power to do so. Along with the help of Student Government, it is the administration’s duty to keep students safe and prevent sexual assault, and for this reason, we do not blame Student Government as an entity for previous sexual misconduct at the Toga dance, but instead ask that they, along with the Administration, move forward with the common goal to institute change.
A solution has also been considered of having a rape culture presentation at the beginning of the year, and we believe this to be a good start, but what has not been recognized is the fact that those who need to hear these messages condemning sexual assault will not listen.
And for this reason, it is necessary to acknowledge that to move away from this backwards dance, students have to wake up to sexual misconduct, and realize that it does create fear. Our community cannot say that it has come far as a school, that it is a “liberal,” welcoming environment, if a student is being sexually assaulted at a public school event. This dance not only serves as a signal to the school that we need to make a change, but also as a symbol of the inequality that still exists today, although it may not take the form we most easily recognize. It is the job of all students at Santa Rosa High School to create a safe environment at these school dances, while it is the Administration’s job to make and enforce rules that prevent sexual misconduct. In this way we can make strides toward dismantling rape culture in our society.
Too often, society forms excuses for misconduct, despite the fact that as of late, it has been “morally” deemed inexcusable. For the Administration to do nothing in response to someone feeling threatened and justify a lack of action with “it’s tradition,” while also arguing that misconduct is wrong, is hypocrisy. When we do not interfere, we are bystanders, and as a school known for its forward-thinking, progressive nature, it is the Administration’s, as well as the students’ duty to stop this now. Not by simply changing the name of the dance, or postponing its cancellation, but by doing the task those with influence signed up for, and keeping Santa Rosa High School students safe.
(This article has been published as an editorial and was written by the Editorial Board of The Santa Rosan).