Lee Cataluna: School marching toward awareness, responsibility
As featured in Honolulu Star-Advertiser, October 4, 2018
On Thursday, 100 students from Damien Memorial School will participate in the Men’s March Against Violence. Damien Students have joined in the march for the past 23 years, well before the all-boys Catholic school became co-ed in 2012.
Wes Reber Porter has been president and CEO of Damien since 2016. He’s a former federal prosecutor in Hawaii and senior trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. He is also on the planning committee for Thursday’s march.
“We’re educating all the time. From when the student gets to campus before the bell rings all the way through after school when they’re at activities until 8 p.m.,” Porter said. “All the time and in different environments, not just in the classroom.”
The students, both boys and girls, will get to the state Capitol early so they can hear the speeches and the names of victims being read aloud. The Damien group is usually one of the largest participating in the march. One year, in an impromptu gesture, a group of kupuna men gave lei to the youngest Damien boys to symbolize passing the knowledge and commitment to the younger generation.
“It’s not just a boys’ issue. It’s a community issue,” Porter said. It’s also not just about violence, but all the related attitudes and behaviors that lead up to it. “Issues of decency, respect, and acknowledging each other as equal,” Porter said.
To write this story this week without mentioning the current national debate over Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged conduct during his years in an all-boys Catholic school would be disingenuous. The connections are obvious, though that isn’t what this story is about. Then again, it is. It’s about guiding young people to think deeply about their decisions and behaviors and to take responsibility for them.
When Porter talks about the biggest issues on campus, he always comes back to putting student leaders in a position of real power.
For example, last year, when students across the country staged school walkouts to protest violence in campuses, Damien administrators had student leaders present their proposals for the protest rather than have adults at the school set rules for the event.
“It was better than anything we could have come up with,” Porter said. “It was real thought rather than a Google search of garbled things.”
The Damien students decided to use their walkout to talk about people in their school community who don’t feel heard. They also talked about how to approach a kid who sits alone or seems disconnected from peers.
“I have a picture of that day of all the students assembled on the field,” Porter said. “But the real picture would have been from the other angle, of all the adults standing off to the side —in the shade— watching to see the students take the lead.”
Damien also has turned to students to come up with the school’s social media policy. “What they proposed was more strict than I would have come up with,” Porter said.
Of course, it’s not all about letting the students set the rules. One of the newer programs at the school is a “character grade” that is assessed by a dean, listed on each student’s report card and sent along with transcripts on college applications.
“Everyone starts with an A+ and if there’s a misstep, and we expect there to be missteps, they have the ability to work their grade back up by volunteering on campus,” Porter said. “So if you see a student pulling a garbage can on campus, it could be a student on financial aid, it could be a student participating in this restorative justice or it could be a student working on their school service requirement.” In that way, there isn’t public shame attached to service work. “We’ve always been a school where service is a part of what we do.”
The goal of participating in the Men’s March, Porter said, is starting conversations, both before and after the march, in class and outside of school. “It’s about awareness of how pervasive the problem is. There are colleagues they sit with in class every day who have front-row seats to these things. It is pervasive and it is pervasive in lots of different ways.”
In annual tradition, hundreds of men march on state Capitol to call for end to violence
As featured on Hawaii News Now, October 4, 2018
By Casey Lund, Hawaii News Now
Hundreds gathered at the State Capitol on Thursday for the 24th annual Men’s March Against Violence.
A major goal for the event: Promoting the ideals of peace and non-violence among young men in the community and changing the way they see conflict.
For young men like Damien Memorial School senior Lindon Sevilleja Jr., the annual march has had an impact.
Just last year, he was going to a movie with friends when he saw a man verbally attacking a woman nearby. He stepped in before things got physical.
“I kind of just stood up for the girl and told the guy to back off a little bit and I stayed with the girl to make sure she was okay and that she felt safe,” said Sevilleja.
Damien Memorial has participated in the march every year, hoping to inspire young men like Lindon.
“It felt good to know that spreading God’s love to someone can have a big impact for someone and make them feel safe,” he added.
Domestic violence survivors and family members of those who were killed were also included in the march.
Thursday’s march is just the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
For a list of events and other ways to get involved, visit the Domestic Violence Action Center website.