Students set out to raise community awareness about sexual harassment

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published November 22, 2019

 Students Tanisha Deshmukh, Jenna Salhab and Dhakshniy Sivakumaran pose after placing second in the community awareness competition at the 2019 HOSA state competition in Grand Rapids. This year, the three Farmington High School juniors are organizing a campaign to raise community awareness about sexual harassment.

Students Tanisha Deshmukh, Jenna Salhab and Dhakshniy Sivakumaran pose after placing second in the community awareness competition at the 2019 HOSA state competition in Grand Rapids. This year, the three Farmington High School juniors are organizing a campaign to raise community awareness about sexual harassment.

Photo provided by Farmington HOSA

FARMINGTON — Three Farmington High School juniors are organizing a campaign to raise community awareness about sexual harassment.

Tanisha Deshmukh, Dhakshniy Sivakumaran and Jenna Salhab are all members of the Health Occupation Students of America, or HOSA, club. For the past three years, they’ve competed in HOSA’s community awareness competition — which has regional, state and international levels — which requires competitors to choose a topic related to health or safety and find creative, collaborative ways to raise awareness for the topic in their community.

HOSA is an international organization that collaborates with schools’ health and science curriculum to provide instructional tools, leadership and networking opportunities, and scholarships for students. Learn more about HOSA at michiganhosa.org.

Deshmukh, Sivakumaran and Salhab will be working to flesh out as much of their campaign as possible and hold awareness events that will help them earn an edge at the regional competition Dec. 6. If they qualify at the regional level, they will head to the state competition.

Last year, their team placed second at the state competition, with their topic of body positivity granting them a spot on the international stage. Two years ago, they explored the topic of sleep deprivation.

Sivakumaran said their team chose to organize around sexual harassment after learning more about issues related to human trafficking in the state and nation.

“After that, we were all talking and we realized it not just human trafficking — it’s sexual harassment in all ways,” she said. “No one knows how to stay safe in those situations, what to do, or how to be aware if they’re in a situation of sexual harassment. We’re trying to educate people in the community and keep them from being a victim.

“It’s really scary being a teenage girl out there, especially in this time,” she added.

That’s why the three students wanted to start by talking about the topic at the school level.

“It’s a very touchy subject, so we wanted to start talking about it in our school because we know a lot of people have concerns with it,” Salhab said. “We’ve seen the topic become very prevalent and common with people our age, so we wanted to bring up the conversation in our school.”

Deshmukh believes a lot of people don’t talk about sexual harassment at the school level because, overall in society, the topic is still stigmatized.

“It’s not our school specifically, it’s society in general, and that affects schools and their students as well,” she said. “We want there to be more talk about it at schools in general. Schools are probably doing things to help students that reach out to them, but there also may be students who are silent about it or too scared to speak out.”

Deshmukh believes that if schools more openly and publicly discuss the issue with their students, students may feel more comfortable coming to administrators or staff when they have a problem.

Farmington High School Principal Tom Shelton said that while he doesn’t believe the school provides any targeted instruction or education about sexual harassment currently, he plans to sit down with the students to talk more about their awareness campaign and what the school can do to help.

“It’s a topic that we want to make sure we have accurate information we’re putting out there, and we also need to make sure that the support systems we have in place are known in case any raw feelings come out of any of the information they share or activities they do,” he said.

In general, Shelton said Farmington High School practices and preaches showing people respect and kindness in their encounters. He also feels the school “constantly reinforces” the idea that if a student is uncomfortable for whatever reason, they should speak with a trusted adult. The school also participates in the OK2Say program, which allows students to provide anonymous tips directly to the Michigan State Police.

“We wish the girls well as they pursue this interest that will hopefully not just help them excel in competition, but will also bring increased levels of awareness in our community,” Shelton said. “We always want to support our students, whether that’s through a project, or if they’re uncomfortable or don’t feel safe.”

For the campaign, the students plan to hold a bake sale for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. They will host a Denim Day at their school as well. For more info on Denim Day, visit denimdayinfo.org.

They’re also planning on hosting a self-defense class in partnership with Fighting Spirit in Livonia. They created brochures with sexual harassment facts, wristbands with the national sexual assault hotline number, and safety packages — a rape whistle, a wristband and awareness literature — to give away at their events.

The trio is also working on creating a short film that would highlight stories of sexual assault, and they are connecting with middle school classrooms to present this information to students at the schools.

To learn more about their campaign, follow “handsoff_awareness” on Instagram.